American Le Mans Car turns first ever laps at "new" Mexican circuit.
MEXICO CITY (November 5, 2002) -- A Panoz LMP900 sports car Tuesday became the first racing car to record a lap at the "new" Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, the newest venue for the American Le Mans Series in 2003.
Originally built in 1959, the circuit is the former home for both the Mexican Formula One Grand Prix as well as a round of the former World Sportscar Championship. The rejuvenated circuit will host the final race of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series next week, and the American Le Mans Series will hold an event April 4-6 of 2003.
The circuit has been completely redeveloped by promoter Gerry Forsythe in conjunction with the Mexican company, Cie. The new circuit features spectacular new corporate, spectator and pit facilities as well as a new section which leads through the middle of a 27,000-seat baseball stadium.
American Le Mans Series driver David Brabham turned the first laps on the circuit at a "re-inauguration" ceremony Tuesday in a Panoz LMP-01 Prototype. Brabham, a two-time race winner in 2002 on the ALMS championship, then turned the car over to top Mexican driver Jimmy Morales. A former 500cc Motorcycle Grand Prix rider, Morales is one of the leading stars of the Mexican McCormack Cup Mustang Series.
"We were delighted to have an American Le Mans Series car become the first to record a lap at the new circuit today," said Don Panoz, Founder of the series, who attended the ceremony.
"(Project Director) Ron Dickson and his crew have done a fantastic job in redeveloping this circuit and I believe this venue will be a magnificent addition to the American Le Mans Series schedule," Panoz said.
"The facility here is undoubtedly going to be one of the best in the world," he said. "Everything is new -- grandstands, track surface, safety fences, spectator facilities, corporate facilities, pit garages and the paddock -- it really is outstanding."
Brabham jumped at the opportunity to reunite with the Panoz Motor Sports team for the inauguration and drive the Panoz LMP-01 at the circuit where he previously competed in Formula One and the World Sportscar Championship.
"The difference between then and now is really amazing," said the Australian driver. "The track layout is fantastic and the new facilities they have put in are simply world-class. This is going to be a brilliant venue for sports car racing.
"Being the first car on the track, there certainly was not a lot of grip today, but once we get here next year, this will be ideal for the American Le Mans Series," Brabham said. "The track is very wide and fast and has plenty of passing opportunities."
Morales enjoyed the chance to drive the Panoz after completing an initial test in the car at Road Atlanta on Oct. 31.
"Mexican fans are really going to love these cars when they come to town next year," said Morales. "They are very fast and very loud -- and I was delighted to get the chance to drive the car today. This track has a lot of fond memories for me, but driving the Panoz today was a great thrill.
"Bringing the American Le Mans Series to Mexico next year will really open a lot of opportunities for many young Mexican drivers," he said.
Both the Panoz and the Champion Racing Audi R8 will be back in action at the track next week for demonstration runs during the CART weekend. Former Formula One and CART star Stefan Johansson will pilot the Audi, while Gunnar Jeannette will drive the Panoz.
The inauguration ceremonies were attended by more than 200 local print, radio and television media. As part of the activities, a commemorative bust of Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez was unveiled. The members of Mexico's most famous racing family both competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.