Ricardo Rodriguez (1942 - 1962)
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Ricardo Rodriguez

Ricardo 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 Short but Spectacular Racing Career

When older brother Pedro was sidelined due to malaria, Ricardo quickly assumed the limelight, and most observers believed the younger of the two brothers was receiving more enthusiastic backing from his father. At the time he was also considered to be the better of the two, but subsequent events were to suggest otherwise.

Like Pedro, Ricardo started on bicycles and motor-cycles. He was a national bicycle champion at 10 and motor-cycle champion at 13. His 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 puts in a smooth performance in the Porsche

Ricardo, on the other hand, 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. 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 co-opted into an experimental Porsche 1600 Super with American Leo Levine and finished 13th 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 D'ino 1965, 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 Nurburgring 1000-km, but in the Le Mans 24-hours they tangled impressively with the works Ferraris until their engine failed with only two hours to go.

Ricardo Rodriguez behind the wheel of the 1961 F1 Ferrari
Ricardo Rodriguez behind the wheel of the 1961 F1 Ferrari.

An Invitation from Enzo

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 a good 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.

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 in the United States with a 4-liter Ferrari 330TR/LM. In October both brothers eo-drove a Ferrari 250GTO to win the Paris 1000-km for the second successive year.

The First Mexican Grand Prix

Both brothers entered the Mexican Grand Prix, the first Formula One race in that country. Ricardo had recently signed with Ferrari, and had taken pole position for the first Mexican GP ever while driving a Lotus V8 that he had borrowed from Walker Racing Team (Scuderia Ferrari did not travel to Mexico for the race because WDC points were not considered).

Death at Peraltada

At the end of the session, John Surtees just clinched pole from Ricardo, who was already leaving the venue at 17:00 PM. When he learned that his time had been beaten he ran back to the track, quickly put on his helmet and...fatefully, drove again. He was running faster than Surtess's best time in an inferior car but lost control in the very last curve (the famous "Peraltada") after a long back straight, exactly at 17:06 PM local time.

He died during the first day of practice, when he inexplicably failed to brake for the fearsome Peraltada corner, and entered the banked turn far too fast, hitting the barriers at the exit. He was 20 years old and his death provoked national mourning in Mexico. 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.

The Scuderia Rodríguez A.C. (a family foundation) keeps his memory, and that of his brother alive. It serves as register for Rodríguez memorabilia and cars, certifying them, and its Secretary General Carlos Jalife published their biography in 2006.
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