I like to drive Minis and I love to race but the La Carrera Panamericana has ruined me. After a week in Mexico participating in this heart pounding event I'm convinced that everything else now will just be a commute.
It all started a few years ago when Benjamin De La Pena from Cancun Mexico got lost in Costa Mesa and ended up in my shop. He left that day with a bunch of parts for a Mini he had crashed in a previous La Carrera race. There is a pretty spectacular picture on line somewhere of his Mini airborne upside down about a foot off the ground.
Fast forward a year or so and he approached me about having Heritage Garage build a power unit to run the Mini again in the La Carrera. The criteria was simple, it had to be powerful, extremely reliable in order to survive over 2000 miles of grueling driving covering huge elevation changes, and one more small detail, run on Mexican pump gas. We took on the challenge and got to work. The motor was tested just before Christmas 2011 in one of our shop cars and then pulled and crated along with a selection of spare parts for its trip to Cancun.
In August last year I flew to Cancun and assisted with the install and final race prep for the Mini. It was to be used to promote his museum in Cancun www.MuseoCarreraPanamericana.com that pays tribute to the history of the La Carrera all the way back to its origination in1950. The excitement of racing the Mini again was growing and I caught the bug.
Benjamin invited me to come to Mexico for the race and travel with the team and I jumped at the opportunity. A month or so later he called and suggested I bring my racing gear with me and maybe he could get me some seat time. I figured even an hour in a Mini running the La Carrera Panamericana would get that checked off my bucket list.
Once I arrived in Veracruz, I quickly found out that it doesn't work that way. The cars travel several hundred kilometers each day and once you are in the car, you're in for the day.
I had been gifted with a whole day of racing in the La Carrera…pinch me now.
Half way through the La Carrera Panamericana week, Benjamin is a very happy customer with a very happy Heritage engine.
Benjamin took the car for day one and brought the car home to a 3rd in class win for the day.
He was happy to have placed and impressed with the power from the new engine.
Day two was my turn to drive and my only goal for the day was not to break my customer's car. We still had 5 more days and a long way to the end. Shock, surprise, and disbelief don't begin to describe my reaction when at the end of the day we were informed that I had placed first in our race group Historica A.
Benjamin took the wheel again for day 3 and 4 but had already made plans to get me back in the car. He made another formal request to the race committee and received permission for me to have 2 more days of driving. I get days 5 and 6. Now the pressure is on. Can I do this again, was it just luck, time would tell. The local favorites to win had their eyes on us now.
I love Minis, they are in my blood and it was my first car in Scotland 40 something years ago. Now, I had to focus; pretend to myself I had a little Zen thing going with the car and give it my best shot. These are some of the most treacherous roads in the world that I have to drive flat out, trusting my navigator and that the route map is correct in describing that next corner.
I pulled off 2 more first place wins which gave us a shot at placing in the top 3 for the week providing we could just get through the last day in one piece.
The Mini was on top of its game with the engine just singing. We had only adjusted the clutch once, changed the oil and filter half way through the week, and topped up fluids regularly. Other teams were swapping motors, rebuilding transmissions and some dropping out all together. Of the 111 that started the race in Veracruz only about half would see the finish in Zacatecas.
Benjamin took the wheel for the last day and the team was elated to see him drive through the finish arch at the last stage to a third place win.
Excitement was high that night as we waited for the final results for the week. Our team that had come to the race with a goal to finish and to promote the Museum, had now won trophies every day.
That alone was beyond our dreams but when we pulled off a first place class win for the week we had made history.
On the 25th anniversary of the La Carrera Panamericana, this was the first time a Mini Cooper had won Historica A.
I'm extremely proud that a Heritage built power unit took the car to victory and even more so that I was part of this amazing adventure.
Now if I can just remember where I left that bottle of Tequila.