Written by Alejandra Guajardo Lozano, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
53 years ago, Mexican driver Pedro Rodríguez produced one of the greatest displays in sports car history. The 1970 1000 km of Brands Hatch was an endurance race held at the Brands Hatch circuit in Kent, England, United Kingdom on April 12, 1970. Rodríguez won the race by five laps in his Gulf-Porsche 917, and drove one of the races of his life. His great performance was even known as "The day they forgot to tell Pedro it was raining".
The weather during practice and qualifying was dry. Chris Amon put his Ferrari 512 on the pole, Jacky Ickx qualifying second. Rodriguez and his teammate Leo Kinnunen had a gearbox problem during practice, and moved the car onto the grass, to have more space to work on it. The problem lied in the linkage and connection to the gearbox. Rodríguez finally managed to qualify seventh.
Despite the heavy rain, 20,000 spectators were seated, ready for the biggest sports car race of the year in England. The race went ahead, and Vic Elford passed Chris Amon and Jacky Ickx in their Ferraris on the first lap. At the end of lap one, Barrie Smith spun and crashed out, bringing out yellow flags. Rodríguez was passing cars while yellow flags were being shown, oblivious of the flag due to the spray.
Clerk of the Course Nick Syrett took over waving the yellow flag. After seeing Rodríguez’s speed and proximity on the next two laps, he decided to show Pedro the black flag. This didn’t work either, as the Mexican ignored it for two more laps. Syrett then warned Rodríguez's race engineer, John Wyer, of Pedro’s impending disqualification if he didn’t come into the pits.
On lap six, Pedro finally came into the pits, and got reprimanded by Syrett for his “dangerous driving”. Alan Hearn, Rodriguez’s lead mechanic was quoted in The Autobiography of 917-023:
“Pedro then came tearing down the pit road, and I was assigned to open the driver’s door when he stopped. Syrett was hovering right behind me. As soon as I opened the door I could see from his blazing eyes that Pedro was not happy. Straight away, Nick dived in the cockpit with his head well down and proceeded to have a right go at him for dangerous driving, a real tongue lashing. Pedro just kept staring straight ahead, not looking at Syrett until he was finished, which took about 20 to 30 seconds. I could see he was fuming. All this time the engine was running. As Syrett stepped away from the car I quickly shut the door. Pedro revved like mad, spun the rear wheels and shot off down the pit road at a very rapid rate. We were lucky we didn’t get our toes taken off…..”
After the reprimand, Pedro joined the race almost a full lap behind the leaders. Vic Elford had been leading during the early laps, but was passed by the rain-master Jacky Ickx. However, Ickx had to pit on lap eight with a rain-wiper motor failure. Elford was back in the lead, but Rodríguez was flying. He came out of the pits 12th, and was already 2nd by lap 15. He managed to keep this lead until the end. He drove the car for five-and-a-half hours, in a six-and-a-half hour long race. Rodriguez won the race by five laps despite treacherous weather conditions. The Porsches romped home 1-2-3-4, the first three being 917K's.
Rodríguez’s performance is one that has been remembered for decades. The British driver, Richard Attwood, gave his opinion on Rodríguez’s performance,
“I would challenge anyone to drive a car as fast as Pedro did that day. Jim Clark, had he been alive, or any other you could name, in fact, nobody could have equaled Pedro that day.”
What are your thoughts on Pedro’s performance? What other great motorsport performances would you like us to talk about? Make sure to comment.