The Carrera Panamericana is more than just your stereotypical gentleman driver cruising down backroad on a Sunday afternoon. The race is defined by incredible sportsmanship and demanding precision, all backdropped by a storied history and set within the Mexican countryside. Punctuated by technical roads, challenging downhills, and high-speed straights, the feats of automotive prowess are all the more impressive when one considers the vast majority of racers participating in souped-up vintage race cars. 

The overall rally is around 1900 miles and includes 625 full-speed closed public roads and all in 7 days. For the sake of the media tour, we were only “competing” in the first two days as pace cars, though this isn’t exactly a leisurely drive—more an all-out pedal mashing push from stage to stage at Mach 10. 

A quick lesson on rally: the objective of this style of racing is to complete the overall rally in the fastest time possible. Instead of laps, you have stages which are point to point at full tilt with a co-driver reading notes and navigating the course. 

In-between stages, there are “transits,” where race cars drive on public roads to reach the next stage. Instead of pit stops, you have services which are predetermined locations for maintenance to be completed. With each stage there are also stage wins, alongside the overall win that is calculated by a racer’s overall time to complete each stage of the rally. 

For the leg we drove along with, we headed from the Gulf city of Veracruz, Mexico's oldest, largest, and historically most significant port, to Oaxaca on Mexico’s Pacific coast. From Oaxaca, we headed back north into the mountains toward the country’s capital, Mexico City.

Waking up at 4AM in Veracruz means being welcomed by the open-handed slap of 100% humidity, something I admittedly was not expecting. Yet, I was eager to head downstairs to peruse the staging area. 

In addition to the extreme humidity, another unexpected part of our morning in Veracruz was the large crowd of people patiently waiting for the start of the race and one of its stars, Patrick Dempsey, who was driving in the #154 Porsche GT4 RS Carrera Panamericana Special. 

As the field of cars started to warm up for the transit to the stage, I was amazed by the diversity of the field. Everything from vintage Porsche’s to Bel-Airs made an appearance, and they were all ready to start that day’s leg. With the crowd growing larger by the minute, it was time to hit the road in the pace car for the Porsche Tour and chase a new GT3 RS through the winding roads of Mexico. 

For the first day, I was to spend most of my time in the backseat of a new Porsche Cayenne doing my best not to get car sick. 

No matter the town or village that we drove through or the highway we drove down, we were welcomed by excited crowds with open arms to the point that the other guests were signing autographs and taking pictures with people. 

The benefit of being the back pace car meant that we could take our time and see the sights and what a view they were. As the sun dipped below the horizon, we pulled into the artisanal town of Oaxaca and made our way down the cobblestone streets in a sea of smiling faces.

The next morning I found myself in the backseat of yet another Cayenne, this time driven by the one and only Luis “Chapulin” Diaz who has won at Le Mans along with having raced in the American Le Mans Series and Indy Light—suffice to say he knew what he was doing. The cherry on the top was that this time we were leading the rally, which meant we got to watch all the action from wherever we wanted. 

Porsche, Porsche

After a few stages we met up with Patrick and the front runners at service, and I was invited to hop into another Cayenne which this time was driven by yet another racing legend, Adrian Fernandez, as well as his family and having raced in everything from Formula 3 to Indy Car and Le Mans. Before leaving service, I snagged a look at how the #154 car was holding up to all of the rough roads and endless abuse. Plus, there’s something special about getting to see a special edition car in the exact place it was designed for. 

Hitting the road, we were doing speeds upwards of 200 km/h in pursuit of the GT4RS during the speed stages and the transits. Regardless of where we went or how remote of a place we were in, there were groups of fans just waiting to see the car and Patrick. 

Although he wasn’t competing in the rally due to it being focused on classic race cars, he was still running the stages at full tilt with a co-driver and pushing the limits of the car. As we neared the finish in Mexico City, we stopped for a quick bite and a few photos at a gas station just outside of the city limits. 

With the speed stages done, we were all staged in a big parade with a police escort and shutdown roads to head into the city. With bridges and streets lined with people, pulling up to the arch in the historic downtown district was a memory like no other. 

While this year’s Panamericana brought together racers and enthusiasts from across the globe, it is with a heavy heart to report that one racer did tragically lose their life in this year’s event—Carlos Alberto Gordoa Álvarez. Though we did not have the privilege of meeting Carlos Alberto Gordoa Álvarez personally, our hearts go out to his family, friends, and the entire Carrera Panamericana community. We're deeply saddened by the loss of a fellow racer. The motorsport world is a tight-knit family, and we stand together in times of both triumph and tragedy, and honor Carlos for his passion and determination.

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