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Pedro Rodriguez de la Vega

2021-02-10 23:00

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Pedro Rodriguez de la Vega

Pedro Rodriguez De la Vega was born in Mexico City on January 18, 1940. His father had been a mechanic before becoming one of the most important lando

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Pedro Rodriguez De la Vega was born in Mexico City on January 18, 1940. His father had been a mechanic before becoming one of the most important landowners in Mexico; it is therefore from him that Pedro and his brother Ricardo take their passion for engines. Pedro's career does not retrace the classic path that is generally followed by a four-wheeled driver. In fact, the first races run by the young Mexican are on bicycles, while the next step is motorcycle races, in which he becomes National Champion in 1953 and 1954.

 

In 1955, Pedro will have to suspend his activity on the track, as he is sent by his father to the US, to the military academy in Alton, to learn the discipline and the English language. The debut in motor racing will therefore take place in Nassau, Bahamas, in 1957, driving a Ferrari 500 TR, an occasion in which his brother Ricardo made his debut in a Porsche, after retracing the career start of his older brother. During Speed ​​Week - name of the sporting event - the young Mexican proves to have good speed skills, to the point that in 1958 the importer of Ferrari cars in the USA, Luigi Chinetti, enrolls Pedro in the 24 Hours of Le Mans by granting him a Ferrari 500 TR with the colors of the North American Racing Team, making it race paired with Josè Behra, Jean's brother, as the organizers of the French race forbid the participation of the youngest Ricardo, just sixteen.

 

Pedro is also admitted with many reservations by the race direction because, although he has been eighteen for a few months, he is considered to be inexperienced. In the race the couple had to retire during the twelfth hour due to overheating problems. However, the young eighteen-year-old Mexican remains fascinated by the great classic French race, so much so that he decides to want to return there every year, collecting a total of fourteen appearances, reaching victory in 1968, aboard a Ford GT40 paired with Lucien Bianchi.

 

In the years to come, the fame of the two brothers from Mexico also spread to Europe. But it was in 1961 that the two brothers put themselves in the spotlight: at the 12 Hours of Sebring, aboard a Nart Ferrari 250 TR, Pedro and Ricardo challenged the factory Ferraris and finished third after an exhausting battle.

 

A few months later, Pedro and Ricardo take part in the 1000 Km of Nurbrugring, where the two finish second, driving a Testa Rossa. Their fame grew to the point that, in June 1961, at Le Mans, Pedro and Ricardo were greeted by the cheers of the public at every pit stop. The two Mexicans are very fast, but at dawn their car is the victim of an electrical problem that forces them to stop for half an hour in the pits.

 

When they return to the track from the stands, the public still cheers them on loudly. The two brothers perceive the enthusiasm of the public, so they decide to squeeze the mechanics of their car to the maximum, until the Ferrari 250 TR61 of the Nart team finally stops due to the engine failure less than an hour from the end of the race. Despite the negative result, Pedro and Ricardo are the object of the standing ovation of the fans present and leave Le Mans as triumphs without even having seen the finish line.

 

At the end of the season, the Rodriguez brothers still race in pairs at the 1000 Kilometers of Paris and take an amazing victory aboard a Ferrari 250 Swb berlinetta. These exceptional performances certainly do not go unnoticed; in fact, at the end of the year Enzo Ferrari decides to contact the two brothers and to hire them in his team. Ricardo, considered the fastest of the two, also manages to land in Formula 1, while Pedro will focus only on the prototypes.

 

But Le Mans remained bewitched for the two Mexican brothers: despite the means available were better than previously, in 1962 comes yet another retirement halfway through the race. Nevertheless, 1962 was full of successes for Pedro, who won the Targa Florio with Willy Mairesse and Olivier Gendebien aboard a Ferrari Dino SP, and also triumphed at the 400 Km of Bridgehampton at the wheel of a Ferrari 330 TRI/LM, repeating the success with his brother Ricardo at the 1000 Km of Paris aboard a Ferrari 250 GTO, starting from the second in a row.

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However, this is the last victory of the two brothers before Ricardo’s tragic death in the Mexican Formula 1 Grand Prix. In October 1962, Enzo Ferrari considered the futility of sending the F1 team to Mexico to compete in the last race on the calendar. Ricardo, however, does not want to give up the Grand Prix raced in Mexico City, so he obtained permission from Ferrari to compete in a private Lotus.

 

On November 1, 1962, on the eve of Dia de Los Muertos, a celebration dear to Mexicans to remember the deceased loved ones, the unexpected happens: Ricardo Rodriguez, brother of Pedro, disappears in a car accident during Grand Prix practice, after crashing against the embankment outside the Peraltada curve due to a failure of the suspension of the private Lotus of the Rob Walker Racing Team. The car catches fire and the Mexican driver is trapped in the flames.

 

Following this tragedy, shaken by the pain of the loss of his brother, Pedro contemplates his retirement from motor racing during the winter. However, after reflecting on his will to continue or not, the young Mexican decides to postpone his retirement, but starting from this moment he begins to wear a precious ring that belonged to his brother, an object dear to him which he will not be able to do without and which we will hear about again in the course of history.

 

"There is nothing to do with racing. After my brother died, I tried to stay away, but I couldn't. It's something in your blood".

 

Pedro begins the 1963 season with a victory at Daytona aboard a Ferrari GTO in a race valid for the World Championship, success then repeated the following year, while a little later he made his debut in Formula 1 in the Grand Prix of the United States and Mexico behind the wheel of a Lotus 25, collecting an undeserved retirement. In this period, despite being left alone, Pedro asserts himself, becoming a star of the first magnitude in the world of covered wheel racing, while in Formula 1 he will have to wait to establish himself. In 1964, Rodriguez obtained his first world championship points aboard a Ferrari 156 F1-63, finishing sixth in the home Grand Prix, the only world championship he participated in during the year, while in 1965 he confirmed his sporadic presence in the Circus, and on board of a Ferrari 158 gets a fifth place in the United States Grand Prix.

 

In 1966 the Mexican returned to Lotus, collecting three retirements in the three races held in France, USA and Mexico, but it was in 1967 that the turning point took place: Pedro arrived at Cooper and with the T81 powered by the V12 Maserati he definitively became a Formula 1 driver. In the same year, Rodriguez enters history by being photographed in the iconic photo of the Ferrari parade arrival at Daytona. On the US circuit, the stupendous global success of Ferrari against Ford, with the double win of the official drivers Bandini/Amon and Parkes/Scarfiotti, is completed with the third place of the Nart car of the Rodriguez/Guichet couple, leaving the American public amazed.

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The season starts immediately with a success obtained in the South African Grand Prix, while in the following races he obtains several positions in points, ending the season in sixth position mainly due to the poor competitiveness of his car. This earned him the call of BRM, the British team with which Graham Hill had won the Formula 1 World Championship. However, the prestigious team has recently entered a spiral of crisis after the triumphal years. Only the great talent of the Mexican allows the team to win a second place in Belgium, and two third places in the Netherlands and Canada.

 

The following season is a total failure for Rodriguez and BRM, as the Mexican collects three retirements in the first three races. These results led him to decide to switch to Ferrari during the current season, when the founder offered him an official 312 to continue the Formula 1 championship. Unfortunately, the car is not fast and while the team from Maranello is already working on the future 312 B, Pedro takes part in the last rounds on the calendar and collects some points, including sixth place in Monza and fifth in the USA.

 

His adventure with Ferrari inevitably ends here. Formula 1 does not seem to smile at the Mexican champion, while in the categories with covered wheels he proves to be a real ace of the wheel, running the World Makes Championship in 1969 as an official Ferrari driver aboard the Ferrari 312 P. But Pedro gets the greatest satisfaction in the 1968 season, as he finally wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Ford GT40. An incredible success, considering that the Belgian driver Jacky Ickx, for whom this car was initially intended, broke his leg and so the team manager, John Wyer, had to summon the Mexican driver as his replacement.

 

The following year, Rodriguez is called to drive the beautiful and unfortunate Ferrari 312 P, with which he collects only a few placings, before deciding to move to the Matra with which he ends the season. But in 1970, the call and subsequent agreement with John Wyer allowed Rodriguez to become a Porsche factory driver. The union between Pedro and the 917 marks the beginning of the legend that consecrates him as the best interpreter of this car together with his companion and rival Jo Siffert.

 

Beyond some incidents, Rodriguez was in awe with the 917 and the successes come as a result; still in the same year, the fast Mexican was joined by the Finnish driver Leo Kinnunen, still famous today for holding the lap record set at the Targa Florio. At the end of the year, the couple will boast numerous successes in the Makes World Championship thanks to victories obtained at Daytona, Brands Hatch, Monza and Watkins Glen. In 1970 Pedro also continued his adventure in Formula 1, and within the B.R.M. team he obtained his second career victory in Belgium and a second place in the USA, while the following year, at the Dutch Grand Prix he was protagonist of an exciting duel with Jacky Ickx, coming behind him in second position.

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In 1971, in addition to competing with B.R.M. in Formula 1, the Mexican driver continued his participation in the World Makes Championship aboard a Porsche 917 of the Wyer-Gulf team, replacing the injured Jacky Ickx, alongside the British Jackie Oliver. The couple won at Daytona, Spa and Monza, while with Dick Attwood they won at Zeltweg. This is undoubtedly the best period of Pedro's career, who is also delighted to take part in the Targa Florio together with his friend Herbert Muller, owner of a racing team: the Mexican driver is now more and more launched towards new goals.

 

Everything finally seems to be turning in the right direction, but in the first months of the year Pedro loses the ring he always wore on his finger in memory of his missing brother Ricardo in a US airport. Being very superstitious, the Mexican pilot asks to be able to reproduce an exact copy of the ring from a goldsmith, but from this moment he begins to confess to journalists that he no longer feels safe. It is a coincidence that during the summer Pedro loses his life by participating in a race of the Interserie Championship, an event open to cars of different types, with no limits to engine capacity, held on the Norisring circuit, in Germany, on July 11, 1971. At 3:13 pm, during the first heat of the competition, Rodriguez leads the twelfth lap while tackling a U-curve. But suddenly the Mexican driver loses control of his unofficial Ferrari 512-M and crashes into a concrete wall due to the detachment of a tire from the front right rim.

 

"The car went sideways, collided with the protective wall and bounced off the road, overturning and catching fire".

 

The photographers and firefighters gathered at the edge of the track will tell. Moments later, German driver Kurt Hild collides with his car into the burning wreckage, remaining unharmed. The race is immediately interrupted, while a swarm of firefighters rushes to the rescue of Rodriguez, who is extracted with difficulty from the grip of the sheets that in the meantime had caught fire. The pilot, whose full-face helmet had spared facial injuries, is transported unconscious to an ambulance and then taken to the Nuremberg hospital. The Mexican died shortly after hospitalization due to the severity of his injuries: in the impact, the 31-year-old suffered third-degree burns and fractures to his head, pelvis and legs. However, what is perplexing is the fact that numerous witnesses, after the accident, confided to the organizers that the tire on the right front wheel of the Ferrari had already started to slip off the rim after two laps. Why did Rodriguez decide to continue? It remains a mystery. On the other hand, the pain felt and publicly expressed by the President of the Mexican Republic, Luis Echeverrìa, is not a mystery, who declares regarding the disappearance of the Mexican driver:

 

"Mexico has lost a brave young man whose efforts to occupy a place in the world of auto racing are an example of persistence. Mexicans are deeply saddened by his passing".

 

The Government of Mexico City immediately takes over the task of transporting the body from Germany and even provides for the travel expenses of the family members who will accompany them on the last trip. The authorities will subsequently welcome the body in a form worthy of what the unfortunate pilot did. The disappearance of Pedro Rodriguez is all the more absurd as the Mexican driver did not want to participate in the competition. The organizers had had to insist with him several times before being able to convince him. Pedro had in fact agreed with the organizers of the event to compete in the Interserie championship race with a B.R.M. P167 8100 cc usually used in the Can Am category. However, during the preparation phase of the car the engine had broken while it was at the bench and therefore the two-seater would not be ready in time for the scheduled appointment.

 

As a result of the incident, Gernot Leistner, the owner of the Norisring race, had asked his friend Herbert Muller to lend Rodriguez one of his Ferrari 512 Ms. The Mexican driver immediately accepted the proposal, because he in turn was on excellent terms with the Swiss Muller, since a few months ago they shared the cockpit of a Porsche 908/3 together at the Targa Florio. Considered one of the best drivers of his generation in the wet, Pedro Rodriguez provided important support to Ford and Porsche, leading them to win the marque title in 1968 (Ford) and in 1970 and 1971 (Porsche). He also became a very eclectic driver in motorsport, competing in various rally races and racing in the Can-Am and NASCAR championships, even becoming the North American Ice Racing Champion in 1970.

 

The first hairpin bend of the Daytona International Speedway is named after him, and the Mexico City circuit, renamed Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, is named after the two brothers. In 2006, thirtyfive years after the accident, a plaque was brought to the scene of the accident in Nuremberg, on the occasion of which partecipated all the city authorities and the family foundation Scuderia Rodriguez. Pedro remembers him like this, with the Sherloek Holmes cap on his head, his hands in the pockets of those multicoloured jackets that those on the tour wear, the shy air, the speech that was a mixture of Spanish, Italian and English. A quiet type, who brought with him pepper and tobacco, red pies that he needed to light the dull European dishes. And a huge love for Ferrari. The Mexican driver bore in his heart the hope of being able to return to racing for Ferrari, so much so that the week before the fatal accident, at the Paul Ricard circuit, Pedro confided to the press:

 

"I dream of that 312-B2. Who knows if in Maranello they realized that I'm not a top-notch driver".

 

Andrea Rasponi

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