Brasília, the city that were inaugurated with an race on a straight road circuit

When I visit the South Lake Pontoon ("Pontão do Lago Sul") on an Sunday evening, I normally think more about the Italian and German supercars and even classic cars that I normally see there and about enjoying the place by itself with the wonderful view of the Lake Paranoá than anything else, but the city where I were born, grew up and still have it as my home have an deeper connection with the car culture and racing than those super cars, mainly because it had an race on an improvised street circuit as an part of the inauguration party, and Juan Manuel Fangio were there as an guest, watching everything.

Giving an background, Brasília were founded in April 21, 1960 after five years of work to build everything in an plan of the President Juscelino Kubitschek, the mentor of the plan to build and advance "fifty years in five" with the construction of the new city, the change of the capital and the Executive, Legislative and Judicial powers from Rio de Janeiro to the Central-West location, but Juscelino weren't the first one to come with the idea of exploring the cerrado vegetation... actually, it were made sixty-eight years before with the Mission Cruls, named after the Belgian geographer and astronomer that were leading it, Louis Ferdinand Cruls.

Cruls got interested in Brazil after meeting Brazilian students in his university in Belgium and his interest became so strong that he lived the rest of his life in Brazil as an Brazilian (legally registered), with an Brazilian wife and kids, so Floriano Peixoto, the President of Brazil at the time, wouldn’t nominate no other than him to lead an exploration across the Brazilian cerrado on the west-central region of Brazil, already with the idea of changing the Capital to the middle of the country.

Returning to the 60's, the president and the whole population that were already living in Brasília due the change of the Capital (what included my grandfather, that were one of those that had to move because of his work and he hated to change Rio de Janeiro by an city that were in majority, red clay and some concrete when he arrived with my grandmother, my father and his brothers) to the new city, that had some festive events to celebrate the born of Brasília and one of them occurred three days later, a big race in one improvised circuit across the wide roads of the brand new capital and it had two large straights crossing the two lanes of the road called "Eixo Rodoviário Sul" (popularly known as "Eixão") in an event that attracted and fascinated almost the whole population of the capital city.

The race was called "GP Juscelino Kubitschek" and had bigger purposes than a simple celebration for the brand new city, it were an propaganda to the car, to the new roads that were being built in Brazil at the time and all of that were because of an vision that Juscelino had of an better future with the investments on the automotive industry. In an interview made in 1975, when he was already a former president, Kubitschek compared the country before and after his time in the governament, saying proudly that the number of paved roads increased, from eight hundred kilometres of roads to about fifty thousand and later, fourteen thousand when Juscelino left the office and claimed that the car industry didn't existed until then.

The big party lasted three days and had big proms on the Planalto Palace, a religious mass and the race across Eixão Sul (an big straight road that cross the south side of Plano Piloto - on the photos below, in the 60's an today), where the circuit had two big straights of something about 3 miles (5 km) and two roundabouts as corners, with easels to mark the spot. Some smaller races were done before with the DKW's, Beetles and others and after that, the big race were held, a race with Maserati 300s, Ferrari 550 Testa Rossa Pontoon Finder, AC Cobra, Porsche 550 and others and the winner were the Ferrari Testa Rossa Pontoon Fender, a rare car with only 21 of them all over the world. His driver, Jean-Louis Lacerda Soares, won as a prize, a clock from the President and later in an event at the local radio, a trophy from the five times F1 World Champion, Juan Manuel Fangio, the result of an talk with the Formula 1 world champion in a pub.

In the night before the race, a big dinner happened at the Hotel Brasília, the only hotel that the city had back then and another of Oscar Niemeyer's creations. The president were there, the drivers were there and Fangio were there too, telling his stories about races, risks that he took, loyalty and disloyalty on the track and Jean-Louis were sited just next to him, listening to everything in silence until the moment that the argentine driver asked to Jean to keep the talking on the hotel's bar and there, Fangio said: "If you want to win the tomorrows race, I can tell you how" and continued: "on the start, keep calm and let the other guys fight for the lead in the fuss of the race start. After ten or twelve laps, no one will have brakes in that enormous straights". Fangio's tip had a reason, the drum brakes that the cars had back then used to be less effective when heated.

"If you want to win the tomorrows race, I can tell you how"

Juan manuel fangio

The tip worked and Jean won the race and with that, an clock from Juscelino Kubitschek and later, in an ceremony made at the local radio, an trophy from no other than Fangio himself, what made Jean very pleased and proud of that and said later: "The circuit were very boring, but it were an very special race because of the historical moment and also because I received the trophy from no other than Juan Manuel Fangio"

Lacerda told in an article that he wrote decades later for an magazine that his team had not only one, but two Pontoon Fender Ferraris at the race and the history says that he used them not only in Brasília, but also in a race at Rio de Janeiro, but... where he won too and where are them today?

From Jean's actual article (translated from portuguese):

“I had in my team, two Testa Rossa. When I quit racing in 1962, I sold the one that I still had for 2 thousand dollars – equivalent to little bit more than 14 thousand dollars in today’s values. Soon after, a guy splitted it in half on a crash against a eucalyptus three in Interlagos. The engine ended in a boat and the chassis and what left from the bodywork, in a garage corner

Normally, the story would end here, but not with that Ferrari. Some years later, I received a call from a gentleman that said that he was looking for me for a long time. He had bought the engine, the chassis, what left from the bodywork, recovered the car and asked me if I had some proof or documentation that could identify that Ferrari as an Testa Rossa, because of the different rear suspension. Yes, I answered, it was a De Dion suspension, installed after my request because it was proper to the Brazilian circuits

Jean in his Testa Rossa Pontoon Fender

I said that I had photos and newspaper articles confirming the pedigree and as I were about to fly to Paris, I could take the documents with me. The gentleman was the Berkeley’s manager, a centennial five-star Hotel in Knightsbridge, London and thanked effusively and asked me to go to London for an talk.

I accepted and when I arrived, I received an suite with the size of an airfield and then we went out for dinner. He told that he would try to certificate the Ferrari as an real Testa Rossa and explained that a week before, one of them were auctioned by Christie’s, in Monte Carlo for 800 thousand Dollars!

Almost fifty years had ben passed since the Brasília GP and the newspapers of 2009 reported the sold of an Testa Rossa that were similar to my Testa Rossa on the “Leggenda e Passione” auction in Maranello, the roots of Ferrari in the north of Italy. It were sold for 11 million and 400 thousand dollars, beating all the world records in car auctions and that “in the middle of one of the worst economic recessions of this era”, as the auctioneer highlited.

It were a Ferrari Testa Rossa, equal to the one that I sold with the discount of 81.400% in the 60’s and that had only 21 of them made by the Italian factory when the amateur drivers started to gave place on the racetracks to the professionals with contracts to race for big brands and supported by stratospheric sponsorships. It was “a Formula 1 car with fenders”, as Sergio Scaglietti, the man behind the design of it and many other classic Ferraris said and the name Pontoon Fender came from the front fenders created by Scaglietti, preeminent as hydroplane floaters. By the RM Auctions criteria, the auctioneer that sold the record breaker Testa Rossa, it is one of the “most beautiful automotive designs of all time”.

Quite a Story...

Photo and information Sources: RM auctions; Blog do Jovino; Histórias de Brasília; Piaui Magazine; Iphan; YoutubePhoto and information Sources: RM auctions; Blog do Jovino;HPiaui Magazine; Iphan; Youtube

Links (almost all of them in Brazilian Portuguese):

Article - "The Race that Fangio won without driving" - Jean-Louis Lacerda: piaui.folha.uol.com.br/materia/a-corrida-que-fangio-venceu-sem-correr/

The big inauguration race: historiasdebrasilia.com.br/video_historias/a-grande-corrida-de-inauguracao/

Link to the Testa Rossa on the RM Soterby's website: www.rmsothebys.com/en/auctions/MO10/Sports---Classics-of-Monterey/lots/r272-1958-ferrari-250-pontoon-fender-testa-rossa/194344

Iphan's Photo Bank: portal.iphan.gov.br/uploads/ckfinder/images/Diversas/DF_Brasilia/?C=N;O=D

Eixo Rodoviário Sul on Google Maps: www.google.com.br/maps/place/Eixo+Rodoviário+de+Brasília+-+Brasília,+DF/@-15.8191776,-47.9039692,58m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x935a3b004c1a3973:0xde11f633751838d0!8m2!3d-15.7623141!4d-47.8841405