Pedro Rodriguez (1940 - 1971)
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Pedro Rodriguez

Pedro Rodriguez
The Mexican brothers Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez were encouraged from an early age by their rich father, and were winning motor races when their contemporaries were still worrying about school examinations. Both became national heroes in Mexico. Both were killed in horrific racing accidents, the hot-headed Ricardo at the age of 20 and Pedro, who had matured into a top-flight Formula One and sports-car driver, when he was 31.

A Mexican National Champion

Pedro Rodriguez was born on 18 January 1940, in Mexico City. Ricardo Valentine Rodriguez was two years younger, born on 14 February 1942. Pedro began racing bicycles at the age of eight. By 1950 he was class-winner in the Mexican Championships and had already begun motor-cycle racing with a 125cc Adler, becoming national champion in 1953 and 1954.

In 1952 he had a sortie on four wheels, driving a Ford in a rally with no success, but in 1955, aged 18, he started racing full-time. In local events he raced a Jaguar XK-120 and a Porsche 1600 Super. Later in the year, however, he was sent to a military academy in the US as his father considered he needed 'building up' after a bout of malaria. This move was not popular with Pedro as it put Ricardo back into the limelight.

Ricardo Rodriguez seemed to receive more enthusiastic backing from his father than his elder brother. At the time he was also considered to be the better of the two, but subsequent events were to suggest otherwise. Like Pedro, he had started on bicycles and motor-cycles. He was a national bicycle champion at 10 and motor-cycle champion at 13.

Ricardo's motor racing debut came in an old Fiat Topolino which in standard form gained several successes in the 750cc class. Later he graduated via an Opel saloon and a 1-liter OSCA sports car to a 1½-liter Porsche RS Spyder. Ricardo made his American debut at the inaugural Riverside meeting in October 1957. Driving coolly and neatly, he won, beating top American Porsche drivers. Both Pedro (who had been racing a Chevrolet Corvette in Mexico) and Ricardo appeared in the Nassau Speed Week at the end of the year. Pedro's performance in a 2-liter Ferrari 500TR drew adverse comment: he was wild and caused a pile-up. Ricardo was as smooth as ever in the Porsche, once more trouncing America's best.

Don Pedro Rodriguez spent a fortune on his boys' motor-racing exploits, but it paid off. They entered their 2-liter Ferrari in the Le Mans 24-hours, but Ricardo was not permitted to participate as, at 16, he was considered too young. Pedro, now 18, sought Jose Behra as substitute co-driver but a burst water hose put them out. Later in the Rheims 12-hours for GT cars Pedro was second in class and eighth overall driving a Porsche Carrera with Behra. Pedro was second in the end-of-season Nassau 'Trophy driving a 3-liter Ferrari 250TR, while Ricardo retired his Porsche after having led the 1½-liter class.

The Bahamas Speed Week

Both brothers also excelled in supporting races during the traditional Speed Week in the Bahamas. It was decided to explore Europe further in 1959. Pedro, at the Nurburgring 1000-km to spectate, was eo-opted into an experimental Porsche 1600 Super with American Leo Levine and finished r jth overall and second in class. Both Ricardo and Pedro teamed-up for Le Mans in a 750cc OSCA but retired early. The 1960 season saw them more in contention. Pedro opened the season well by taking his Ferrari 250TR to second place behind Stirling Moss's Maserati T61 in Cuba's Liberty Grand Prix.

Later, driving a 2-liter Ferrari Dino 196S, the pair were sidelined in the Sebring 12-hours owing to clutch trouble, but survived to finish seventh in the Targa Florio despite several off-road excursions. They retired once more at Nurburgring, but in the Le Mans 24-hours they were split. Pedro was an early retirement, but Ricardo finished a strong second in the North American Racing Team-entered Ferrari 250TR shared with Belgian Andre Pilette. Successes followed for both in the Bahamas. Successes also followed into 1961, when both added single-seater racing to their repertoire by competing in Formula Junior.

They led the Sebring 12-hours for a while, but had to be satisfied with a third after electrical problems afflicted their 3-liter Ferrari 250TR. They failed to survive the Targa Florio and Niirburgring r ooo-krn, but in the Le Mans 24-hours they tangled impressively with the works Ferraris until their engine failed with only two hours to go. Enzo Ferrari invited them to race works cars in 1962, including Formula One. This was the opening Ricardo had been looking for and he accepted, fully expecting to be World Champion in 1962. Pedro, with a motor business in Mexico City to run, declined.

The Ferrari Dino 156, the World Championship-winning car of 1961, was out-classed in 1962. Ricardo crashed in Holland (a race in which he made himself unpopular by colliding with Jack Brabham), did not race in Monaco, was fourth in Belgium after a hectic dice with team-mate Phil Hill, missed France and Britain owing to an Italian metalworkers' strike, was sixth in Germany despite the handicap of an old engine and retired in Italy. Ferrari then announced no cars would go to the season-closing United States and Mexican Grands Prix.

Pedro Rodriguez at the wheel of the Porsche 917
Pedro Rodriguez at the wheel of the Porsche 917.

Pedro Rodriguez in his 1968 BRM
Pedro Rodriguez in his 1968 BRM.

The Death of Ricardo

In sports-car racing Ricardo was a member of the trio who shared the Targa Florio-winning Ferrari 246SP and he was second in the Daytona Continental, co-driving with Phil Hill. Pedro retired at Sebring, Nurburgring and Le Mans, but won a race at Bridgehampton (USA) with a 4-liter Ferrari 330TR/LM. In October both brothers co-drove a Ferrari 250GTO to win the Paris 1000-km for the second successive year. Both brothers entered the Mexican Grand Prix, the first Formula One race in that country. Ricardo, in the absence of Ferrari, agreed to drive Rob Walker's Lotus 24-Climax. He was very quick in practice, but then lost control on the banked corner before the pits and crashed heavily. He was thrown out of the car and died of multiple injuries.

Reports varied as to the cause of the accident. Some blamed Rodriguez' excessive speed, saying that after his bad season with Ferrari he wanted to prove himself in is home country. Others said the car's rear suspension broke. Pedro immediately withdrew from the race and is reported to have stated that he would retire from racing. Ricardo was only 20 when he died, an age at which most drivers were beginning their careers. Mexico mourned him, and before the race the President of Mexico read an eulogy for Ricardo.

Pedro Returns to Racing

Pedro returned to the tracks early in 1963, winning the Daytona Continental in February in a Ferrari 250GTO of the North American Racing Team. He was third in the Sebring 24-hours in a 4-liter Ferrari 330TR/LM, co-driving with Graham Hill, did not qualify the Aston Martin-engined Cooper T54 in the Indianapolis 500 and had his first taste of Formula One at the end of the season. Lotus offered him a works car for the United States and Mexican Grands Prix, but he retired in each race. The following year he won the Daytona Continental for the second year running, also the sports-car Canadian Grand Prix, while he was second in the Paris 1000-km and third in the Bahamas Tourist Trophy. In a Ferrari 156 he finished sixth in the Mexican Grand Prix.

Three more Formula One drives came Rodriguez' way in 1965. He was fourth in a Lotus 33-Climax in the Daily Express Silverstone Trophy, and with a Ferrari 1512 was fifth and seventh respectively in the United States and Mexican Grands Prix. He won the Rheims 12-hours, co-driving a Ferrari 375P with Frenchman Jean Guichet, and was also third in the Canadian Grand Prix for sports cars. Results were poor in 1966, but Pedro's performance had been impressive. Deputising for the injured Jim Clark in the French Grand Prix he ran fourth until an oil pipe broke on his Lotus 33-Climax, while in the Mexican Grand Prix the transmission failed when he was in third position.

Standing In for Jim Clark

Again, standing-in for Clark, he finished third in the Rouen Formula Two race. This led him to an invitation to join the Cooper Formula One team for the South African Grand Prix in January 1967. Pedro drove sensibly and came through to win in the heavy and underpowered Maserati-engined Cooper T81. He signed a contract to drive for Cooper for the remainder of the year, finishing fifth at Monaco (a circuit he disliked), sixth in France, fifth in Britain, eighth in Germany and sixth in Mexico.

Pedro crashed his Protos-Ford in the Enna Formula Two race, sustaining leg injuries which caused him to miss three Grands Prix. For 1968 Rodriguez switched to BRM, a move which upset Cooper as he had a contract to drive with them. Pedro 'warmed-up' in the Tasman Cup series and returned to Europe to take a superb second place in the Brands Hatch Race of Champions after having been delayed at the start. He crashed in Spain when he hit oil and at Monaco when the brakes failed, but almost won the Belgian Grand Prix. However, his BRM P133 spluttered short of fuel on the last lap and he had to be content with second. He was third in Holland, sixth in Germany, third in Canada and fourth in Mexico, but the highlight of the season was undoubtedly his victory in the Le Mans 24-hours. Driving a JW-entered Ford GT 40 with Belgium's Lucien Bianchi, Pedro won the race at his eleventh attempt.

Dropped from BRM

Complicated team politics caused Rodriguez to be dropped from the 1968 works BRM team, although he raced a privately entered BRM P133 for Tim Parnel!. Hopelessly underpowered, it was eventually withdrawn, but he subsequently raced in four Grands Prix for Ferrari. It was back to BRM in 1970. More powerful V12 engines and the new P153 chassis combined to make Pedro Rodriguez a truly competitive contender in Formula One for the first time. The highlight of 1970 was his victory in the Belgian Grand Prix at Francorchamps when he held off a determined attack from Chris Amon (March 701B-Ford). He also briefly led the Italian Grand Prix until his BRM failed.

As a member of the JW-Gulf Porsche 917K sports-car team, Pedro enjoyed his most successful season ever in long-distance racing. After driving for 16 of the 24 hours, he won at Daytona with Finn Leo Kinnunen. In pouring rain he won the BOAC 1000-km at Brands Hatch by five laps. He also won at Monza and Watkins Glen, was fourth at Sebring and second in the Targa Florio where he handled a lightweight 3-liter Porsche 908/03. He retired in the Spa 1000-km but had the consolation of a new lap record at an astonishing 160.53 mph. In 1971 he won the non-championship Rothmans Formula One race at Oulton Park in the new BRM P160, finished fourth in the Spanish Grand Prix and duelled with Jacky Ickx' Ferrari for the lead in the Dutch Grand Prix in treacherous conditions; a slightly off-song engine lost him the battle, but he was a safe second only 8 seconds behInd Ickx at the finish.

Death at the wheel of the JW-Gulf Porsche 917K

Once more he excelled in long-distance sports-car races, taking his JW-Gulf Porsche 917K to wins at Daytona, Monza and Francorchamps (with Jackie Oliver), and Osterreichring (with Dickie Attwood). He was also second at Buenos Aires and Nurburgring and fourth at Sebring. In July 1971 Pedro Rodriguez drove a 5-liter Ferrari 512M in a minor sports-car race at Norisring in West Germany. On the 12th lap, while leading, Rodriguez suddenly lost control. The Ferrari cannoned into the guard-rails and caught fire. Pedro was trapped in the wreckage and died of multiple injuries in hospital. The cause of the crash was not definitely established, although it was suggested a slow back marker about to be lapped caused him to swerve and lose control.
Pedro Rodriguez driving the 1971 F1 BRM
Pedro Rodriguez driving the 1971 F1 BRM.
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