Wednesday 21 December 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of the Yore VIII - Boavista Portuguese Grand Prix

Well past the Christmas and into the new year, the season of 2003-04 was not going the way  Manchester United hoped for. Arsenal were continuing their unbeaten streak in the Premiership and then came knock out stages of Champion’s League.  United’s record at  Champion’s League looked good until the last-minute tackle by Phil Neville (which was so silly and needless), free-kick by Costinha, half-hearted save by Tim Howard and the goal, the elusive away goal powered Porto to quarterfinals and they went on to win the Champion’s League.
Jose Mourinho became a legend and very soon became the toast of European football, known as one of the ‘thinkers’ of the present day football. That was his time at Porto. 2004 apart  I can recall from my interest in Champion’s League winners history,  Porto had also won the 1986-87 Champion’s League. Football and Porto have a long history.
In search of more sporting history at this fanatic city in North of Portugal, I found Oporto (other name for Porto) hosts alternatively (Lisbon and Porto) an annual cricket tournament that awards the Kendall Cup to the teams formed by the representatives from Lisbon and Porto. The tournament traces its history back to 1861 and it became a regular event in 1920 when the man himself Mr. A.C Kendall presented the trophy in memory of Lt. Rawes, a WWI martyr who lived and played cricket in Portugal. Barring the 5 years hiatus during WWII, this tournament has been a regular to this present day.

Alongside cricket, I also managed to dug up the fact of Oporto being the first Portugal city to host a F1 race. In the eight part of the ‘Lost Track’ series I put forward my views based on what I have read on races that took place in Boa vista circuit in Porto.
Since its start, F1 World Championships has attracted many cities across Europe; like every other European country even Portugal wasn’t far behind. Boa vista circuit (Porto) and Monsanto circuit (near Lisbon) were the early players under the banner of Portuguese Grand Prix welcoming many sports car competitions in the 1950’s. Although, the races were unofficial it did generate a lot of interest and paved the way to host the inaugural F1 Portugal Grand Prix in the year 1958 at Boa vista. The circuit included the famous ‘Esplanade do Rio de Janerio’, a harbor front in Porto continued along the Avenue of Boa vista, narrow twisting roads on small neighborhoods before reaching the start-finish line.

Pole and the race belonged to the Brit driver Moss; his fellow country man and title rival for 1958 Mike Hawthorn came in second. The race was not just about Moss and his drive but the other side of it, the humane side and the sportsmanship he displayed. During the course of the race, Hawthorn had an off-road excursion disrupting the normal traffic (since the track featured roads connecting tram lines, small roads and cobble stoned roads) which prompted the race officials to disqualify from his second place. Moss persuaded the officials to not take such an action and in the end Mike Hawthorn kept his second place and more importantly the 6 points. At the end of the season, Mike Hawthorn ended up winning the championships by a mere one point over Moss.
Sir Stirling Moss is arguably considered the best driver never to have won the World Championships and such was his passion for racing that, he took it seriously, was ruthless in his driving but fair when it came to approaching the sport in general.  
After the inaugural edition at Porto, it was the turn of Monsanto Park at Lisbon to host the second edition of Portuguese Grand Prix. The race returned to Boa vista in 1960 where Jack Brabham, the reigning World Champion won the race in his Cooper-Climax, helped by many retirements owing to engine failures and few accidents.
The 1960 race was the last time a F1 race was held at Boa vista. The Formula One Portuguese Grand Prix discontinued after 1960 till its revival in 1984 at Estoril. 
The revival of Boa vista track happened in the year 2005 and since then it has hosted auto-shows, the FIA WTCC Race of Portugal (2007, 2009 and 2011) which includes racing programs such as International Formula Master (formerly Formula Super 2000) and other Portuguese national competitions. 

Sunday 18 December 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of the Yore VII - Ain-Diab - Moroccan Grand Prix

Ain Diab Circuit 
The year was 2006 and I was on a self-exploration trip across few places West of India. It was during this trip I came across the quote (the one I had read previously in the books) inscribed on a wooden plate next to Mahatma’s room at Sabarmati Ashram – “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” After some travelling to places away from home I now can sense that quote well and interpret it better.

In the seventh series of ‘Lost Track’ I will talk about the racing in the Arab world. Currently the FIA World Championships feature two races from the Arabic speaking world - Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. However, it dates back to 1950’s when an Arab country hosted an F1 race, which also happened to be the first time a championship race was held in the World’s second largest continent, Africa.

Morocco is famous for its literature, rich culture, European influence in social life, blessed landscapes, picturesque valleys, mountains, archaeological sites and last but not the least the cuisine. Although I am a vegetarian, but I do know from few of my friends about the Moroccan food which includes my favorite couscous.

The most famous place isn’t the capital Rabat but happens to be the city which is also a name of the 1942 Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman starrer blockbuster movie. ‘Casablanca’ amongst all the other famous associations was the city that hosted the first Moroccan Grand Prix.

The racing at Casablanca dates back to 1920’s when the French and Monegasque drivers dominated the races which were driven mostly by the touring cars. At the start of 1950’s, racing cars started making their presence felt. Inspired by the world championships, a circuit at Ain-Diab (near Casablanca) was built. The first race at Ain-Diab was held in 1957 and following the popularity, an official sanction was made and thus 1958 Moroccan Grand Prix became part of the F1 calendar. The 7.6 km circuit resembled a quadrilateral in shape with dimples and pimples on all sides of the track was designed by the Royal Automobile Club of Morocco and given a full blessing from Sultan Mohammed V. It took merely six weeks to construct the circuit. 

Ferrari driven by Mike Hawthorn took the pole position. Hawthorn leading the championships needed just a finish the race in points scoring position and while the second placed Moss needed a victory and some luck with Mike not finishing  (the best six results counted towards the championships). Stirling Moss in his Vanwall took the top step but to Moss's ill fate, Mike finished in second and took the Driver’s World Championship.  However there was a consolation for Vanwall as they took the Constructor’s championships.

The race, first one to be hosted in Africa was impaired by the death of an English driver, Stuart Lewis-Evans who died in London six days after crashing heavily and succumbing to burns caused by his car’s seizure and hitting the barriers of this dusty circuit. After hosting races for 33 years, the first F1 race happened to be the last time Morocco ever hosted a race. There is nothing as exciting as a comeback. It remains to be seen if and when does Morocco get to host racing cars next.