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. 

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