The Autódromo Internacional Virgílio Távora at Eusébio, near Fortaleza, is Brazil's fourth permanent motor racing circuit and remains the only such facility in the state of Ceará. The distance from the other major population centres of Brazil has tended to hold the facility back in terms of hosting national championships, though it remains the centre of racing in north east Brazil.
Despite being in public ownership, the track has managed to ensure its activities generate enough revenue each year to ensure it does not require any further taxpayer funding. As a result it seems likely that Fortaleza will continue to enjoy its racing circuit for many years to come.
The circuit was built in 1969 by local racers, though racing had previously been held for a number of years on a street course in Fortaleza before moving in 1942 to the abandoned Pici Field air base, which had been used by the Americans in World War Two.
Races organised by the Automobile Club of Ceará continued for several years on the makeshift course at Pici, with events proving very popular. However, the racers were becoming increasingly concerned for the safety of all involved, especially the spectators who were largely unprotected from the cars speeding past. The club decided that to continue on the site, money would need to be raised to resurface the runway, build a grandstand and put up protective fences, while legal agreement would be needed with the landowner to establish the necessary permissions for racing.
With the first two achieved, the club approached the government department responsible for the former airfield to seek its legal agreement – only to be told that it could not sign it as it was not the landowner. With no other landowner becoming apparent, the plan to continue racing at Pici was abandoned.
Government help secures circuit development
Undeterred, the racers pressed on, seeking alternative land to build their course. They received a boost when the Mayor of Fortaleza promised to fund the asphalting and building of a grandstand. Soon the racers has purchased 33 hectares of land from a family in Eusébio and work look set to start. It was then that the mayor told the club he was unable to provide the funds as expected, as the land was outside the city limits.
In desperation, club members used their contacts to seek an audience with the State Governor, Virgílio Távora. A delegation duly visited him at his home and was evidently persuasive about the merits of motor racing for the local economy and tourism, as Távora immediately instructed transport minister Mário Andreazza to provide the necessary assistance with the paving.
With the government help now on board, work began quickly (though not before another government department had to provide a loan to pay Petrobras for the asphalt) and the new circuit was completed in around four months. Simple in layout, it featured a five-cornered course, roughly triangular in outline and featuring a mix of high and low speed corners.
The inaugural event was the 'Grand Prix Minister Mario Andreazza', held on January 12, 1969. The Minister cut a ceremonial ribbon and the dignitaries – including Távora and the mayors of Fortaleza and Eusébio – watched on as field of racers from Ceará, Pernambuco, Bahia and two from São Paulo fought for victory in a 65 lap race. Luis Pereira dos Santos took pole and led from flag to flag in a Puma-Volkswagen to record the first win at the new track.
International racing makes a brief visit
In 1970, the track hosted its first international event, a Formula Ford event featuring a number of overseas visitors. Emerson Fittipaldi ran out the winner with Luiz Pereira Bueno in second and Englishman Ian Ashley rounding off the podium. It would remain the only international event held at the circuit, though it did also host a round of the inaugural Stock Car Brasil series in 1979.
Thereafter the circuit found it hard to attract any further national events, with many racers finding it too difficult or too expensive to travel to the north east on a regular basis. The track continued on as a hub for racing for Ceará and the surrounding area, though by the early 1990s, funds were tight and the facility was becoming increasingly run down. The track direction was reversed at this time to anti-clockwise and a sequence of new corners introduced to slow cars ahead of the Desespero ('Despair') curve.
The fate of the circuit looked uncertain, with the Automobile Club of Ceará unable to fund any significant upgrades. It looked increasingly likely that the site would be sold off for redevelopment. However, in 1993 the State of Ceará came to the rescue once again, with the Secretariat for Tourism in co-operation with Petrobras buying the facility and leasing it back to the Automobile Club.
New investment sees circuit modernised
By 1997, plans were put in place for a significant investment which would see the circuit redesigned and extended in a bid to bring it up to modern safety standards and give new life to the venue. The new circuit was again essentially triangular in outline with a new infield section bringing the length up to 3km. The reopening took place on November 30, 1997 with the Six Hours of Ceará. After 237 laps, the duo of triple F1 World Champion Nelson Piquet and fellow Brasília racer Ruyter Pacheco took the flag to win in a BMW.
Formula Three races were soon held here and a further boost came in 2006 when the wildly popular Fórmula Truck series added Fortaleza to its calendar. In preparation, a new short course was created by linking some of the interior curves together, bypassing a portion of the circuit. In addition, the course was reversed with the big trucks running in a clockwise direction (though for all other events the regular anti-clockwise route was maintained). The event was a huge success, with a record 53,000 turning out to watch Pedro Muffato take victory.
Despite its popularity, the trucks would visit only until 2009, since when the track has largely reverted back to hosting regional racing, despite occasional talk of organising a Stock Car race. Minor alterations in 2013 brought a new variation of the short course, cutting out almost all of the infield, while the truck course was also raced in an anti-clockwise direction in a bid to offer variety to the local championships.
- Autódromo Internacional Virgílio Távora, R. Ayrton Senna, Ceará, 61760-000, Brazil
- Official website
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