The Autódromo Internacional de Curitiba was one of Brazil's top motorsport venues, with facilities that arguably exceed that of Formula One venue Interlagos. Even so, it is a facility which has always faced uncertainty throughout its life; a political row led to its effective closure for nearly 20 years and, since its resurrection in the 1980s, question marks remained as to its long term viability, which ultimately proved doomed.
Real estate speculators began circling in the early 2010s and several proposed sales of the racetrack land were floated, all with the intention of replacing the circuit with residential and commercial developments. These seemed to come to fruition in 2016, when the track's closure was announced, only for the deal to fall through, with motorsport given a stay of execution.
Sadly, 2021 proved to be the final year of operation, with the owners finally concluding a deal to convert the site into a space with commerce, residences and leisure areas. Bulldozers arrived in December to begin the teardown, with the track expected to be gone entirely by mid-2022.
The story begins in 1959 when a group of businessmen led by Flavio Chagas Lima announced a new project for a sporting complex in the Pinhais municipality of Paraná state. At its heart was a motor racing circuit designed by local architect Ayrton 'Lolo' Cornelsen, who had helped with the urban planning of Curitiba itself. He would go on to design circuits at Luanda in Angola, Estoril in Portugal and Rio's original course at Jacarepagua.
Lolo's vision was to create a multi-use sports facility, with the track playing the leading role. Alongside the track would be volleyball and basketball courts, an artificial lake for boating practice and a separate go-kart track. For children, there was a playground and a mini railway.
Land in the municipality of Pinhais was found, near to other sports venues, including a horse racing track and water park. In addition to the circuit, plans were also put forward for a new headquarters for the Automobile Club of Paraná.
The project bubbled under for a few years and Lolo eventually moved to Rio de Janeiro to oversee works there, leaving completion to Chagas Lima. A modified circuit design was approved, though many of the supporting sporting facilities never saw the light of day. State Governor Paulo Pimentel lent his assistance for the earthworks and access roads and, gradually, the circuit began to emerge.
By 1966, the circuit had been completed, save for asphalt surface. The oval outer course stretched for 1.68 miles and was intended for testing, while the twistier 2.61 miles road course would see the racing action. Both courses were run in an anti-clockwise direction in this first incarnation. The circuit was designed to be fully visible from all spectator vantage points and boasted amenities including a go-kart track and a large parking area. The new circuit was christened the Autódromo Paulo Pimentel in honour of the governor.
Such was the anticipation, a race was actually held on the dirt surface in 1966. Rumours abound to this day (but always denied by Chagas Lima) that the race outcome was somewhat fixed, given that the winning car – a Ford Galaxy – should have been outclassed. Its driver, however, was the owner of an aggregate business and, elated by his victory, donated the gravel that would allow for the paving the following year...
These early years saw a mix of four and two-wheeled competition as the circuit established itself as a major sporting venue in Paraná. It also put a great deal back into the local community, organising philanthropic events in aid of local hospitals, churches and charities.
Political wrangling sees the circuit put out to pasture
Politics would intervene, however. A struggle for power within the Automobile Club of Paraná in 1971 led to the Confederation of Brazilian Autosport threatening to intervene, to the great upset of Chagas Lima. Unhappy with the direction of motorsport in the region, he elected to close the circuit for competition, just five years after its completion.
And so a period of hibernation began, punctuated by only the occasional use of the facility as a stage on a local rally event. As if to emphasise its dormant status, Chagas Lima put the land to work for arable pasture, with cows regularly seen grazing the infield (leading locals to nickname it the 'vacódromo ' - vaca being the Portuguese for 'cow'.)
For 17 years the impasse remained, until a group led by businessmen Adeodato Volpi Junior brought about an accord between the various squabbling parties and persuaded Chagas Lima to reopen the circuit in 1988. The passage of time meant that new investment was needed to bring the track up to modern safety standards and so local businessman Jauneval de Oms was given a 12 year lease, with a further optional 12 year extension, to operate the circuit.
Track modifications were made, including the reversal of the circuit direction and the creation of a new complex to bypass the original banked oval corner at what was now the start of the lap. This also necessitated a modification of the infield section, with the creation of a new corner called Pinheirinho. A new pit and paddock, located closer to the Vitorià corner, was also constructed and the whole track was resurfaced.
The revived circuit was named the Autódromo Internacional de Curitiba – a somewhat controversial move given the rivalry between Pinhais and its bigger neighbour – and dedicated in honour of Raul Boesel, the local racer who had been crowned World Sportscar Champion the year before.
Racing resumes with an international cast
It was sportscars that initially brought the circuit to international attention in 1996, when the BPR GT Series organised several 'Temporada' end-of-season away trips to Brazil. A two-hour race was held at Curitiba in front of huge crowds, who cheered wildly as Brazilian hero Nelson Piquet triumphed alongside Johnny Cecotto in a McLaren F1 GTR. Reaction to the circuit from the visiting European drivers was very favourable.
The next time the circuit featured on the international calendar was 2006, when the FIA included it as a round of the World Touring Car Championship, a position it held through to 2012. Again, it met the approval of many of the drivers, though there were some complaints about bumps.
In 2014, the circuit moved to clarify rumours that it would be sold off for condominiums by stating the rumours were untrue, though did not rule out completely the possibility of such offers, if received, being given serious consideration in the future. That seemed to come to pass in 2016, when a new proposal was agreed and the announcement was made that motor racing would cease after the visits of the Stock Cars and Formula Truck series in March and April. The Curitiba Motor Show would round off proceedings in May.
However, by August, this new deal had also collapsed and so racing was able to resume in 2017 with a full programme of events. However, it was clear even as racing resumed that the writing was on the wall.
The end finally comes
The final call came in 2021, when a new agreement was reached to sell off the land, with an announcement in September that the circuit would close permanently on December 31. The entire site would be redeveloped with residential and commercial properties, with a small part being given to the city as public parkland. Despite protests by fans and drivers outside City Hall, there was little the municipal authorities could do to prevent the sale of private property.
A new group, the SaveTheAIC Movement, attempted to block the sale, urging the authorities to list the circuit as a historic monument. Bulldozers began to move a little ahead of schedule in December 2021, leading to the protestors gaining a court injunction to cease work until the listing debate could be resolved. However, this proved unfruitful and on 13 January 2022 the Court of Justice of the State of Paraná suspended the effects of the injunction. Four days later the bulldozers were back in action and the track's fate was sealed as the iconic vehicle bridge into the paddock was torn down.
Work to redevelop the site is expected to continue during 2022 and will be divided into two stages: the first should be completed in a year and a half and the rest by 2031.
This is a historic circuit which is no longer in operation.
- Autódromo Internacional de Curitiba, Iraí Avenue, No. 16, Pinhais, Paraná, CEP 83321-000, Brazil
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The Autódromo Internacional de Curitiba was located in the municipality of Pinhais, to the east of Curitiba in Paraná State, Brazil. The nearest airport is Afonso Pena International Airport at Curitiba, around 10 miles or 30 minutes drive form the circuit.
The circuit has now closed and is being demolished to make way for redevelopment.