Remembering Jose Carlos Pace and His 1975 Brazilian Grand Prix Triumph

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistNovember 10, 2015

Carlos Pace
Carlos PaceTony Duffy/Getty Images

Successful Brazilians pepper the history of Formula One racing: from world champions such as Emerson Fittipaldi, Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet to grand prix winners like Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa.

But the Interlagos circuit in southern Sao Paolo—host of this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix—is not named after any of them. Not Fittipaldi, victor of the first two Brazilian Grands Prix; not Piquet, a three-time world champion; not even Senna, a national hero and martyr.

No—the fast, sweeping circuit is named for Jose Carlos Pace, a native son with just one grand prix win on his resume. But what a win it was: a career-defining triumph on home soil at the 1975 Brazilian Grand Prix.

The 1975 season was Pace's fourth in F1. Midway through 1974, he had left the Surtees team for Bernie Ecclestone's Brabham and scored his best result to date at the season-ending United States Grand Prix. The 30-year-old Brazilian finished second at Watkins Glen, 11 seconds behind his team-mate, Carlos Reutemann.

Brabham had high hopes for '75, and both Pace and Reutemann led at times during the first race of the year in Argentina. A spin and a blown engine left Pace point-less, but Reutemann finished third in the Martini-sponsored BT44.

Carlos Pace
Carlos PaceGetty Images/Getty Images

Two weeks later, the teams arrived in a sweltering Sao Paolo.

The layout of the original Interlagos circuit was three-and-a-half kilometres longer than the current version (which, at 4.309 kilometres, is one of the shortest on the calendar). It featured a long, twisting infield section that doubled back on itself before releasing the cars on to the familiar, seemingly endless, start-finish straight.

Fittipaldi, another local hero and the world champion in 1972 and 1974, qualified second on the grid for McLaren, behind Jean-Pierre Jarier's Shadow. Reutemann was third, but Pace could only manage sixth.

Not much has been written about Pace, but his grandprix.com biography notes that he was "a debonair and charming man."

Andrea de Adamich, whose career overlapped with the Brazilian's for two years, remembered him simply as "a very nice person." 

The two men were also team-mates for one race, the 1973 South African Grand Prix and De Adamich said Pace was well-cultured and interested in the world beyond the racetrack. "He was really considered like a new potential world champion, but he never changed his attitude," De Adamich continued. "He was always available."

Pace's former boss, John Surtees, told Motor Sport Magazine's Paul Fearnley:

I thought Carlos was a superb talent. I had a lot of time for him. He had a good relationship with a car, understood it, and this allowed him to perform in different conditions and drive around a few problems.

He had a little bit of a temperament and could get upset about things, but generally he was easy-going and we had a good relationship. That he set fastest laps with us at the old Nurburgring and Osterreichring, real flowing drivers' courses, showed that he was a bit special.

In Sao Paolo on that Sunday in January, the crowd was buzzing with two local drivers on the first three rows (Fittipaldi's brother, Wilson, also started 21st).

Motor Sport's correspondent, Alan Henry, wrote: "From an early hour the gigantic grandstand along the main straight was squashed full to capacity beneath a scorching sun and obliging water tankers played hoses of cool water on the chanting mob to keep them from roasting."

Formula 1 @F1

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Keeping cool at a scorching 1975 #BrazilianGP - Carlos Pace's only #F1 win http://t.co/rHjgRj05Zw http://t.co/0nmMxoeOFN

"The crowd were throwing stuff towards the grid and it was highly emotional to sit there on the grid," remembered Mike Wilds, who was starting just his third grand prix, driving the lone BRM in Brazil. "It was very tense and just an amazing atmosphere."

If that was the reaction of a Londoner, racing across the ocean from his homeland, one can only imagine what Pace was feeling as he lined up for the formation lap with a chance to win almost literally in his own backyard.

At the start, Reutemann jumped into the lead, with Pace also moving up the order to form a Brabham sandwich around Jarier. It did not take long for the Frenchman to regain his place at the front, though, and begin pulling away from the train that formed behind Reutemann.

Pace passed his team-mate on Lap 12, according to Motor Sport's report, although he could not keep pace with Jarier's Shadow. Meanwhile, the afternoon sun continued to beat down on the cars and spectators.

"We didn't have isotonic drinks and all the things that can help drivers cope with dehydration nowadays, so it was actually salt tablets—we used to take some salt tablets and lots of water," said Wilds.

"I was perfectly fine in the car, when I was driving, but as soon as I stopped, I think when I weighed myself afterwards, I'd lost 10 pounds of weight just through perspiration and the loss of water."

On Lap 32 of 40, with a substantial lead and his first F1 victory so close, Jarier's fuel system broke, leaving his car stranded.

Pace took the lead and held off a late charge from Fittipaldi. As he crossed the line, the crowd chanted his name, "Pace, Pace," according to the UPI report (h/t the Globe and Mail) before they stormed the track.

Wilds had retired on Lap 23, just past half-distance, with a broken flywheel and was stuck out on the back of the circuit at a marshal post. On the cool-down lap, John Watson stopped in his Surtees to give Wilds a lift back to the pits.

"It was just pandemonium," Wilds recalled. "We didn't have huge motorhomes and so on, so I just went to the back of our garage, but there was an immense amount of people around."

Some fans lifted Pace onto their shoulders and carried him to the podium. He was draped in a laurel wreath and waved a Brazilian flag, to the delight of the crowd.

The Brazilian went on to score two more podiums in 1975—at Monaco and Silverstone—and finished sixth in the drivers' championship, 40.5 points adrift of Ferrari's Niki Lauda, who claimed his first title.

Contos da Fórmula 1 @ContosdaF1

#F1 40 years ago, Carlos Pace (Brabham) and @emmofittipaldi (McLaren) obtained first 1-2 of Brazil at Interlagos-1975 http://t.co/Kkfc1SEQpE

Pace "was very quick, but he was not, in my opinion, like a Fittipaldi or like a Jackie Stewart," De Adamich said—not really a slight, considering those are two of the most highly regarded racers of the 1960s and 1970s.

The next year, Brabham switched their Cosworth engines for Alfa Romeos, which proved unreliable. Pace struggled to get into the points, scoring just three times in 16 races (Reutemann had one points-scoring finish in 12 races before he left to replace Lauda at Ferrari after the Austrian's horrific crash at the Nurburgring).

The 1977 season began with more promise. Pace had a new team-mate, John Watson, and the Brazilian finished second at the opening round in Buenos Aires. In Brazil, he led again before colliding with James Hunt and crashing out late in the race. 

Pace qualified second in South Africa but wound up two laps down after a late pit stop for new tyres. The results of the race, though, seemed irrelevant after Tom Pryce was killed when his car struck a marshal who was trying to cross the track.

No one knew it at the time, but that grand prix was also Pace's last. Two weeks later, he was killed in Sao Paolo—not in a racing accident, as you might expect in those dangerous days, but in a plane crash. The Interlagos circuit was renamed in his memory: the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace.

Racing Retro @RacingRetro

#ClassicInterlagos The man whose name now graces the circuit, the late Carlos Pace winner in 1975 #BrazilGP #F1 http://t.co/EORHTev5UJ

He had shown his potential, but how much more could he have achieved? Piquet won the drivers' championship with Brabham in 1981 and again in 1983. Would Pace still have been there for those years or would he have moved on? 

Sadly, those questions can never be answered.

"Unfortunately," lamented De Adamich, "he was very unlucky."

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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