Potrero de los Funes
A spectacular track set around a water reservoir in the volcanic hills above San Luis, Argentina, Potrero de los Funos has a history encompassing the 1970s and the traditional Carretera races and onto more recent times, with a modern rebuild securing international attention and praise.
Having sprung to world attention in 2008 as the host of the season finale for FIA GT Series, the circuit went onto become host to the top national series in Argentina through to 2018, when other permanent circuits took more prominence.
Today the circuit continues to be invested in by the local government and was host to a stage of the Argentine Historic Grand Prix in 2021, while it also hosts other events, including cycle races, pop concerts and a fun fair in the paddock.
Road racing is ingrained in Argentine sporting life – indeed, the Turismo Carretera is the world's oldest continuously running motorsport series. With a history dating back to 1937, early events began on closed public roads, with cars racing on a mixture of dirt, gravel and asphalt. By the 1960s, a move towards more permanent venues began, with local roads undergoing modifications to make them more suitable for racing.
The first course is born but dangers are apparent
So it was that in 1978, the series gathered at the 'Lake and Hills' circuit at Potrero de los Funes for the first time. Much of the course used the same public roads around the lake that today's circuit also embraces, although that is largely where the comparison ends. Aside from yellow-painted armco barrier around the perimeter, there were little other modifications in what was the most temporary of courses.
The races were organised by the Automobile Club of San Luis, and a temporary pits area was established after the corner which is turn eight of the modern variant. The races were a modest success, Juan María Traverso winning the final in a Ford Falcon having taken victory in two of the three heat races.
Such was the transient nature of the Carretera calendar, it wasn't until 1987 that Potrero de los Funes featured again. The returning drivers found the circuit much the same as they had left it, fast but with basic facilities. The road surface was also unchanged, leading to the cancellation of the first day of practice while running repairs took place.
When racing finally got under way the next day, there was a serious collision involving Dominic Martinez and Guillermo Rodriguez, which brought out the red flags and saw both cars badly damaged. Worse was to come in the second heat, when Juan De Benedictis and Jorge Oyhanart tangled, apparently when De Benedictis suffered transmission failure. This sent his Dodge side on into the armco barriers, flipping the car round and into the crowd, killing two spectators.
The organisers elected to continue the event despite the tragedy, though there was little enthusiasm from the drivers. In the final, further drama was to come when the Dodge of Julio Roberto Colabello suffered a violent collision, destroying the car and hospitalising its driver. This time, race organisers abandoned any further running and that, it seemed, was the end of the 'Hill and Lake' course.
Racing is revived to world acclaim
Fast forward nearly 20 years, however, and plans surfaced for the circuit to be revived, as part of a bid to boost tourism in the area. The provincial government of San Luis stumped up around $19 million on road improvements and for building permanent pit and paddock facilities. These included a control tower and media centre, scrutineering bay, helipad and a modern medical centre. Two concrete grandstands with seating for 4,000 spectators were also installed opposite the pits. In total around 52,000 spectators can be accommodated around the circuit.
Construction work began in early 2008 and took 10 months to complete. A general road widening and resurfacing programme was undertaken to bring the course up to modern standards, resulting in a generous track width of 14 metres, with a three meter apron either side. Some of the more elevated sections actually required the road to be built out on platforms overhanging the hillside to accommodate the new track width!
Changes were made to the original layout, with several corners being tightened (notably the final turn before the pits) and two chicanes installed ahead of sections with limited run off. Circled by modern concrete crash barriers, the FIA accredited the new circuit to Grade 2 standards, allowing all categories below Formula One to compete there.
On November 23, 2008, the FIA GT arrived to host its championship finale, with supporting races for the local TC2000 touring car series, Formula Renault and historic GTs. The event was a huge success, with hotels sold out for miles around in all directions and the new track capturing the imagination of the drivers. "It's like a second Nordschleife," GT championship contender Fabrizio Gollin commented. "One of the most beautiful circuits in the world!"
The Saleen of Bert Longin and Anthony Kumpen took an unexpected victory in the FIA GT race, while local star José María López took the TC2000 spoils. The GT cars skipped the following year's event, which was this time headlined by the TC 2000 and Turismo Carretera, but in 2010 and 2011 returned as a round of the FIA GT1 World Series.
After the demise of GT1, the circuit reverted to hosting top level national events and was been a popular fixture on the local racing scene, hosting Turismo Carretera, Super TC 2000 and Top Race V6. The coronavirus pandemic saw events come to a halt in 2020 and the track has so far not been included on the major championship calendars since then, however, it did host a visit of the new Argentine Historic Grand Prix event in 2021.
- Av Circuito y, D5701 Potrero de los Funes, San Luis, Argentina
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