Erik Comas and co-driver Isabelle de Sadeleer The race winners and their 1953 insider

Studebakers are big in Mexican road rally

A modified 1953 model won the 3,000-kilometer Carrera Panamericana

They stopped making Studebakers 50 years ago but that didn’t stop five of them from entering the Carrera Panamericana last week, a seven-day rally that began in Veracruz and finished in Durango.

And the winner? A modified 1953 Studebaker Commander, which beat quite a few Porsches, a number of Mustangs and several other makes in a field of 44 vehicles.

Piloted by Erik Comas, a former Formula One driver, and co-driver Isabelle de Sadeleer, the winning car had been in a tight race with another Studebaker, but it went off the road and didn’t finish. However, yet another Studebaker was in the top five.

Why Studebakers, which have won the race 20 times since 1993? “It’s the best car for competing in the Panamericana because it has great aerodynamics and good weight distribution,” said Emilio Velázquez, whose own Studebaker was the one that went into the ditch.

The race dates back to 1950 but it was halted in 1954 due to concerns about safety after more than two dozen people died during the five years it was run. The race was brought back in 1988. This year it was run on an indirect route totaling just over 3,000 kilometers.

Much of the route was through curvy, mountainous terrain, which helped keep speeds down. On stretches of open road, there was a speed limit of 230 km/h.

The Panamericana is an amateur race but safety regulations are strict: six-point roll cages, racing seats, five-point safety harnesses and fire suppression systems are required in all cars.

Comas said there is no road race like it anywhere in the world. “Even though I’ve driven in grand prix races and Le Mans and rally races, I’ve never driven in a seven-day race. It’s more than a rally; I was not expecting such a difficult event.”

His car has a 600-horsepower V-8 engine and Nascar-style suspension.

The veteran racer also commented on the number of people who lined the road, waiting to see the cars go by. “I wasn’t expecting to see so many people,” he said. “There were 30,000 just in Mexico City.”

The event was run October 17-23.

Source: New York Times (en)

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