Address: Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Cd. Deportiva de la Magdalena Mixiuhca, Av. Río Piedad esq., Río Churubusco, Mexico D.F., 15850 Mexico
PH: +52 55 5764 8400
Circuit type: Permanent road and oval courses
The Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez has been Mexico's premier racing circuit for more than 50 years, hosting a range of international events during its lifetime. Sitting as part of a giant sports complex in the south-east of the capital, the circuit has seen categories from Formula One to Indycars, NASCAR, top class sportscars and even drag racing grace its route.
Named after Mexico's two most revered racing drivers, Ricardo and Pedro Rodríguez (the name literally translates as the autodrome of the Rodríguez brothers), the idea for the circuit actually came from their father, Pedro Natalio Rodríguez, who was an advisor to then Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos. In 1958, Don Pedro suggested using internal road network at the Magdalena Mixiuhca Sports City to create an automobile race track, to allow the brothers and other Mexican stars the chance to compete in front of an international audience.
The president readily agreed and the director of works of the city government, the engineer Gilberto Valenzuela, was commissioned to visit different tracks in the world to gather ideas. With the assistance of the Rodríguez family, a world class design emerged for the racetrack. The full course stretched for 5km but the complex offered a number of other variations, including a one-mile oval. The main straight at just over 1km was then among the longest in the world, with ultra high speeds possible thanks to the sling-shot effect of the high speed banked corner which preceded it.
Construction took place during 1959 and the Autódromo Magdalena Mixiuhca was complete by year-end. The first race, the Mexico City 500 Miles, took place on December 20 and was appropriately won by Pedro Rodríguez with brother Ricardo in third, separated by the other great local racer of the era, Moisés Solana.
The first non-championship Formula One race was held in 1962, though this was plunged into tragedy when Ricardo Rodríguez was killed during practice when the suspension on his Rob Walker-entered Lotus failed while rounding the fearsome Peraltada corner. He was just 20 years old. As a mark of respect President Mateos ordered the venue's name to be changed to the Autódromo Ricardo Rodríguez.
A year later, the Formula One circus returned, this time for a fully-fledged World Championship event. Jim Clark dominated the race from pole, backing up his win the previous year with another first place. Formula One would continue its visits through the 1960s, often as the season-ending event. The race was popular with drivers and spectators, with an end-of-term feeling prevalent. The standards of race organisation were not quite so successful, however, and there were often problems with security as dogs and even spectators entered the course.
Things came to a head in the 1970 Grand Prix, which had to be delayed by several hours when a huge crowd of around 200,000 poured into the circuit, completely overwhelming the facility. Spectators climbed over safety fences to get a better view, lining the trackside. Despite pleas from the officials, local police and even drivers Jackie Stewart and local hero Pedro Rodríguez, they couldn't be moved. Eventually the race began as normal and it was a miracle that no spectators were harmed, though Stewart was forced to retire with suspension damage when he struck a dog which had run out onto the course. The spectators' antics meant that Formula One would drop the event from its schedule from 1971.
The circuit reverted to hosting mainly national racing for the rest of the decade and was renamed (at the behest of then-President Luis Echeverría) the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in 1972, following the death of Pedro Rodríguez during a sportscar race at the Norisring, Germany, the year before.
The Amercian CART Indycar series visited during 1980 and 1981, using the shorter 'Pista 2' course, which bypassed the hairpin section altogether. Plans were then formulated to return Formula One to the circuit and large amounts of money were spent on a circuit refurbishment. New modern pit garages were constructed, while high fences ringed the track and patrols with guard dogs were implemented to keep spectators at bay. Modifications were made to the first corner, with a new 'esses' installed to allow for greater run-off, while the circuit was shortened by the elimination of the original hairpin section, which now featured additional spectator stands.
Formula One duly returned in 1986 to packed crowds once more. At 6,000 feet above sea level, this was always going to be a circuit which favoured the turbo cars of the era and so it proved, with Gerhard Berger winning for Benetton-BMW, though his victory owed as much to his hard-wearing Pirelli tyres which allowed him to complete the race without a pitstop.
Nigel Mansell won for Williams the following year and would go on to provide one of the most memorable overtakes in F1 history when he passed the McLaren of Berger around the outside of the Peraltada during the 1990 race. A huge crash suffered by Ayrton Senna at the same corner in during practice for the 1991 race saw modifications made to the run-off area, though in truth there was little room on the outside of the corner for serious improvement. The following year's Grand Prix, won by Nigel Mansell, would prove to be the last for a number of years, as Formula One moved to new venues in the far east.
World Superbikes were brought into replace F1 as the headline event, but the first attempt in 1993 descended into farce when the poor organisation of old returned and the riders found the circuit in a completely unsuitable condition for racing. Stray dogs and footballs from the nearby soccer pitches ended up entering the circuit during practice sessions. Worse still, Scott Russell was somewhat startled to be heading down the main straight and have a pickup truck drive across the circuit a few metres ahead of him, seemingly oblivious that qualifying events were taking place. The riders boycotted the rest of qualifying and the organisers eventually decided to abandon the meeting. World Superbikes did not return in the following years.
The circuit went into a period of decline in the following years, with the focus of the sports complex seemingly shifting away from motorsport. A baseball stadium – the Foro Sol – was built inside the Perlatada corner, becoming home to the Diablos Rojos del México, and also hosting large music concerts. Then in 1999, the track effectively closed with rumours of property developers circling to build new housing.
Happily, help in the form of new investment came from across the border in the USA. Gerald Forstythe, one of the owners of the CART ChampCar series, was looking for new venues to take advantage of the upsurge of interest in the series caused by the success of Mexican stars Adrián Fernández, Michel Jourdain Jr and Mario Domínguez. In 2001, Forsythe struck a deal with the Corporación Interamericana de Entretenimiento (CIE), through its OCESA subsidiary, to run a ChampCar race at the venue for the 2002 season.
Heath Dickson, of D3 Motorsport Development, was brought in to oversea a further refurbishment of the circuit, which would require a new solution at Peraltada. With no room to increase run off, a new section of track was built through the middle of the baseball stadium, cutting out half of the Perltada corner. As an added bonus, the new complex provided additional spectator seating capacity. The first event proved it was worthwhile as an astonishing 402,413 people attended, watching on as Sweden's Kenny Bräck drove to victory for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Champ Car events continued until 2007, though from 2006 began using a modified course which saw the Foro Sol complex dropped and a slow chicane insearted in its place, allowing the full Peraltada to be used. The new A1 GP series also began the first of three trips to the circuit (a fourth, scheduled for May 2009 had to be cancelled due to an outbreak of swine fever) using the same course.
The burgeoning interest in NASCAR style racing in Mexico saw series officials host a Nationwide event from 2005 to 2008. To accommodate the heavy stock cars, a temporary chicane was constructed on the main straight and a new 'stadium' curve added in place of the Lake esses. The first race was won by Martin Truex Jr., with Denny Hamlin taking victory in 2006. For the 2007 event, the slightly clumsy chicane on the start/finish straight was removed and Juan Pablo Montoya took a popular first stock car win. The final event in 2008 was won by Kyle Busch.
The domestic NASCAR series then became the mainstay event at the track, making use of the oval course, rather than the road circuit. This is run in the traditional anti-clockwise oval format, though the course is considered more challenging than most, due to the visibility problems through the turns caused by the proxmity of the baseball stadium at Turns 1 and 2 and the parkland trees at Turns 3 and 4.
The rise of new Mexican stars Sergio Pérez and Esteban Gutiérrez has prompted renewed interest in Formula One. In July 2014, CIE announced it had struck a new five-year deal to stage the Mexican Grand Prix from 2015 onwards. To bring the circuit up to modern F1 standards, a comprehensive rennovation was undertaken, including significant circuit changes. These have been penned (almost inevitably) by Hermann Tilke and include a new sequence of corners to open the lap at Turns 1, 2 and 3, while the rest of the course was also substantially re-built and re-aligned, albeit following the general outline of the original course. The lap finishes with a trip through the Foro Sol stadium with a revised set of corners to those used by the CART racers. The entire circuit was resurfaced and new spectator stands erected around the lap, with completely new pit and paddock facilities erected.
The changes were phased in in stages to allow other racing activity to continue. Demolition of the existing pit and paddock began in August 2014, while work on "S" curves and the lake area began mid-October and continued until April 2015. Simultaneously, reconstruction of the oval course and Fero Sol stadium began in October 2014 and was completed by May 2015, while the new first turns were built between November 2014 and February 2015, The whole complex was complete by August 2015.
The revised course hosted the Mexican Grand Prix in front of a rapturous crowd of some 240,000 spectators, in what was undoubtedly the best-attended Grand Prix weekend for many years and possibly of all time. Nico Rosberg took a well-judged win after a race-long challenge from Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton. The podium ceremony was held in the Foro Sol stadium creating a unique atmosphere.
From 2016 the World Endurance Championship will also visit the Autodromo, reviving memories of the previous World Sportscar Championship visits in the 1980s and '90s. Formula E will also make its debut on a new temporary course based around the oval circuit. It too will head into the Foro Sol, before doubling back on itself to use the whole Peraltada, albeit with a chicane inserted in the middle.
The Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is located at Ciudad Deportiva Magdalena Mixiuhca in southeast Mexico City, Mexico. Mexico City International Airport is located a few blocks to the north of the circuit and can be reached in around 16 minutes by car.
The circuit itself is located within the park complex at Magdalena Mixiuhca and can be reached via Avenue Viaducto Río Piedad or the Río Churubusco interior ring road. The Metro system also runs to the park - catch Line 9 to Ciudad Deportiva.