You could be forgiven for assuming the first Grand Prix ever to be held outside Europe must have been staged in Japan or perhaps even America. Argentina would have been a fair way down your list but on October 15th 1961 the first world championship race to be staged outside Europe was held in Buenos Aires. The fledgling World Championship was only in its 13th year of existence but already starting to spread its wings far and wide.
Wind the clock on 58 years and the modern-day gladiators arrive at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit this weekend after a record-breaking opening round under the floodlights in Qatar. Just 15.093s separated the first 15 riders crossing the line, the closest ever in the 70-year history of Grand Prix racing. Things have changed since that first race in Buenos Aries.
The first big difference was that opening race, which was the final round of the 1961 Championship, was 52 laps long just a mere distance of 203 kilometres. Setting the precedent, it was pretty close at the front with Argentinian Jorge Kissling winning by just 2.8 seconds from countryman Juan Carlos Salatino. Not perhaps the 0.023s that separated Dovizioso and Marquez in Qatar but never the less pretty close after over 200 kilometres of racing. After those leading two riders it was a very different story with Frank Perris on the Norton ten laps down.
The Argentine Grand Prix ran for a couple more years with Mike Hailwood the first non-home winner in 1963 but after those three initial Grands Prix it did not return until 1982. With the Falklands Island war between Argentina and Great Britain less than a week away I was lucky to witness a fantastic race before rushing home on the Sunday night just before war was declared. It was the opening round of the World Championship and Honda returned to the fray with their three cylinder two-stroke. Leading their return was a young American by the name of Freddie Spencer.
It was still a long race of 32 laps and at the finish just 0.67 seconds separated the Yamaha’s of former World Champions Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene. Spencer put Honda right back in the fray with a third place with just 1.37 seconds covering the three podium finishes. It was then a frantic rush to the airport. Three days later all flights between Britain and Argentina came to an abrupt end.
I loved the new venue Termas de Rio Hondo. Of course, it was an absolute pain to get to, the steps to the media centre were pretty rickety and the mosquitoes did bite but the sheer passion for MotoGP made up for all this.
Fans from all over South America arrived in the town square at night. A motorcycle with three of four occupants was not unusual, pick-up trucks from all over the vast continent arrived with far more passengers, donkey carts proved more sedate transport and the music was loud and lasted till dawn. Then en masse the party would reallocate to the circuit as the sun came up over the lake.
Grand Prix racing had returned to where the worldwide adventure had started all those years ago.