The Carrera Panamericana is in itself one of the greatest adventures of our time. However, this year’s participation of our friend Kurt Richter from Mexico was another challenge and adventure of a special kind, because the entire organisation was at the last minute.
Kurt Richter had already been part of the HK-Engineering service team as a “German” Mexican in 1998, 1999 and 2002, when we took part in the Carrera Panamericana with our own 300 SL, it was an open car of the SLS type. Our greatest success was in 1999, when our boss Hans Kleissl won the classification of all historic vehicles with an MB 300 SL and, on top of that, came third overall. This was the best classification ever achieved by a historic vehicle in the new edition of the Carrera Panamericana. There are two categories in the Carrera Panamericana: one is the historic cars based on the FIA regulations in Europe, and the other is the so-called “free” cars, which are cars with a historic shell but modern technology. Here, traditionally, Studebakers are on the road with up to 600 hp, which of course cannot normally be beaten by a historic car with original technology.
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Mercedes double victory on this track in 1952, Kurt Richter has set his mind on participating in the Carrera Panamericana with an MB 300 SL racing car from HK.
Carrera Panamericana: One of the greatest adventures of our time
However, taking part in the Carrera Panamericana is quite expensive, especially as the freight prices have risen several times over in the past, so the whole thing was to be financed by sponsors. Only three weeks before the start of the Carrera, Kurt Richter had the money for all the expenses together and could give us the green light to get the car ready and bring it to the airport. This left us only four days of preparation time to get the car ready for this race and to fit it with disc brakes, which are allowed at this event.
The car arrived in Mexico City by air freight only three days before the start, and on top of that the customs clearance was delayed by several days and it was more than questionable whether the car could be brought to the start in time. In the end, our race team arrived in Veracruz with the vehicle just over an hour before the start. This left only one hour for the technical scrutineering. With the combined efforts and help of all the Mexicans present, who were desperate to get the car to the start because of their enthusiasm for the MB 300 SL, the almost impossible was achieved.
At 7:30 a.m. Kurt Richter and his co-pilot Ricardo Gallingo started with our gullwing for the first stage, the “La Carrera Panamericana 2022” has begun. A goosebump moment for all of us!
The “La Carrera Panamericana” is the most exciting classic car rally in the world and was created in 1950 for the inauguration of the Mexican part of the road connection between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego called “Panamericana”. In 1952, the two German drivers Karl Kling and Hans Klenk took first place with the original gullwing W 194, and since then the gullwing has become legendary in Mexico. At the same time, this victory was the first major success for Germany after the lost war and was therefore a great ray of hope for the whole country. After a longer interruption until 1988, the rally celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. In seven intense and challenging days of competition, more than 90 vehicles compete against each other and cover more than 3,200 kilometres. In doing so, they master more than 500 kilometres of speed stages on Mexico’s most spectacular roads.
After the first day of racing, which took us to Oachaca, the technical problems start on day two: the alternator is constantly going crazy because it can’t stand the heat in Mexico. The rally is super demanding for the drivers and the vehicle but also the technical support of HK has to make an effort to keep up with the high speed. Day three: the many speed tests wear on the nerves of our drivers, no wonder, the alternator is still spinning. But the atmosphere makes up for these difficulties. The Gullwing is welcomed in the Mexican cities with open hearts and big hellos, the people here love this car, this unbelievable joy and enthusiasm carries the drivers as well as the whole race team.
On the fourth day we had the problems with the vehicle well under control, the race car got a new set of tyres from the travelling mechanics from HK at the halfway point, and the brakes were also renewed. Other minor technical problems can be fixed promptly. In contrast to some other cars, our gullwing arrived well and safely in Morelia, on this day there had been some serious accidents on the track, unfortunately also with casualties. Our pilots are experienced and prove their multitasking ability during the speed stages: perfect foresight combined with simultaneous roadbook reading while keeping an eye on the metre counter, here smooth interaction and strong nerves are required from driver and co-driver alike.
With temperatures of up to 35 degrees, it is very hot and dry, partly cloudy, the last stages of the rally are extremely strenuous and require a really good physical condition with up to 900 route kilometres per day. We don’t sleep more than 4-5 hours a night, nevertheless our team holds the 2nd or 3rd position in the class throughout, without any damage to the vehicle. At 1500 m up to 2800 m altitude we “experience” original landscapes with breathtaking views on grandiose roads. Driving at high speed, however, hardly allows us to let our attention wander and absorb the impressions.
At the finish in Durango (approx. 1900 m and in the middle of the jungle) we, but especially the in Mexico quite prominent racers of our gullwing, are frenetically welcomed by a large crowd. At the end of the rally, the award ceremony takes place at 9 p.m. and we celebrate our joint success all night long. Our team of drivers mastered the demanding Carrera Panamericana with the MB 300 SL in good health and without an accident, making a great 3rd place in class.
Our team, led by our race mechanic Zoli, returns to Polling proud, satisfied and happy from this beautiful country and its warm inhabitants, the insane experience and great success at the Carrera Panamericana.
Report by HK-ENGINEERING 2022