The first proper motor races in Brazil took place in 1934 on the Gavea road circuit near Rio de Janeiro and two years later the first international drivers began to arrive. The city of São Paulo, naturally, wanted not to be left behind and so hosted a “Grande Premio Cidade de São Paulo.” This was not a great success as there was a large accident when a straw bale fell into the path of one of the competitors and the car crashed into the crowd, killing three and injuring 33 others. The races in Rio continued but up in São Paulo there was a different idea.
Back in the 1920s, a British citizen with the usual name of Luiz Romero Sanson, had dreamed up the idea of a satellite city for São Paulo, in keeping with the idea of garden cities which were developed in England in the same era. Born in Trinidad in the Caribbean, and educated in Venezuela, Sanson had settled in Brazil and had made a fortune with Autoestradas SA, a company that built motorways. To the south of São Paulo, two large reservoirs had been built to provide the city with hydroelectric power. To do this a new road had to be built and Autoestradas SA was brought in to do the work. Sanson had previously acquired more land than he needed when he built the Congonhas Airport and he decided to do the same between the two lakes and then hired a French architect called Alfred Agache to design a garden city in the area.
The lakes reminded Agache of Interlaken in Switzerland and so it was decided to call the area Interlagos, which means “between lakes”. However the Wall Street Crash in 1929 meant that the financial situation changed and soon afterwards Brazil underwent a revolution and so nothing much was done although Sanson continued to plan, including a large recreational area in the project, which would include a beach, created with sand trucked up from the sea at Santos, and a motor racing circuit.
He wanted to build a great track and studied other circuits around the world and concluded that the best design would be one based on Roosevelt Raceway, near New York, which curled around on itself. Construction finally began in 1938 and the track was paved the following year but there was no money for any other facilities and it would be many years before grandstands and pit facilities were constructed. The circuit was to have been inaugurated in November 1939 but the weather was bad and so the opening was delayed until May 1940, when 15,000 people turned up to watch the first race.
Interlagoes was sold to the city of São Paulo for a nominal sum in 1954.