History : When Morocco had its own Grand Prix

On the 19th of October 1958, the Kingdom of Morocco hosted a Formula One motor race known as the 1958 Moroccan Grand Prix. Two years after gaining its independence, Morocco wanted to celebrate the new era by taking advantage of the race to shed light on the city of Casablanca. Flashback.

Built in 1957 in only six months, the circuit received the same year the blessing of King Mohammed V. / Ph. Arte
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On the 19th of October 1958, Casablanca hosted race 11 of 11 in the 1958 World Championship of Drivers and race 10 of 10 in the 1958 International Cup for Formula One Manufacturers. The competition was known throughout history as the 1958 Grand Prix held at Ain-Diab Circuit.

«Accustomed to organizing car competitions since the early twentieth century, the Kingdom managed to convince the federation to let it organize a Formula One final in 1958», said a short report broadcasted on Arte TV channel and dedicated to the city of Casablanca.

On the 19th of October 1958 Casablanca hosted the Grand Prix./Ph. ArteOn the 19th of October 1958 Casablanca hosted the Grand Prix./Ph. Arte

«We had just gained independence. Morocco wanted to absolutely have its own Grand Prix to promote its image for tourism purposes. The world was supposed to know Morocco through this Grand Prix. Roads were built especially for the Grand Prix, but later there were constructions because at the time of the race, there were no houses next to the circuit», said Abdelouahad Ettoubaji, a passionate about the history of automobile in Morocco, to the French-German TV channel.

«All eyes and all the cameras of the world were on Casablanca, which people did not know at the time. There were about 100,000 spectators. The seats were packed with people».

53 laps, 400 kilometers and 25 participants

In 1957, a 7.618-kilometer circuit was built all the way along the sea between Casablanca and the coastal city of Azemmour, in just six months. Designed by the Royal Automobile Club of Morocco, the circuit received the blessing of King Mohammed V on the same year. The circuit also hosted the 12 Hours of Casablanca, an endurance race series.

In 1958, the Ain-Diab circuit hosted the Grand Prix, which was part of the Formula One World Championship of the same year. «53 laps, and more than 400 kilometers to go for the 25 participants», explained Arte. Spectators rushed to attend the event. 60,000 people, including 200 journalists were there to watch the race, as reported by Huffington Post Morocco. The British car driver, Stirling Moss, won leaving behind his fellow Mike Hawthorn. Despite the victory of Moss, the world title was won by Mike Hawthorn, who finished second in the Grand Prix.

A curvy circuit

Although the race was a way to victory for some drivers, the event turned into a nightmare for others. The example here is Brit Stuart Lewis-Evans, who struggled trying to finish the race. Because of a mechanical failure, he lost control of his vehicle. Seriously injured, Stuart Lewis-Evans was repatriated to England where he died six days later.

«The bend where the driver lost his life resembles to the one next to Morocco Mall today. There were mostly a lot of straight lines and right-angle turns. The outline is still there but the structure has changed. Today there are double tracks whereas previously there were simple ways. The roads were much narrower», recalled George Bonan, who attended the race, when contacted by Yabiladi. «I was 19; I was on the track at the Ferrari stand with my brother. He was filming while I was taking pictures», said Bonan.

André Guelfi, one of the two drivers who represented Morocco in the race. / Ph. ArteAndré Guelfi, one of the two drivers who represented Morocco in the race. / Ph. Arte

A memory that particularly marked it : «Mohammed V, our sultan, had come and I remember that Hassan II came by helicopter. I even think he was the one driving the aircraft. He had landed at the end of the straight line next to the beach, He was still a young prince…»

Aside from Striling Moss and Mike Hawthorn, another participant managed to attract attention during the race. André Guelfi, is a French businessman born in May 6th 1919 in Mazagan. «That day, he was one of the two drivers to compete in the Moroccan team», recalls Arte. «At the time he started running, he was already rich. He was earning a lot of money so he could afford to rent and buy racing cars bring in mechanics from abroad, drive everywhere and compete in major international competitions. He was a star for all of us at the time», said Abdelouahad Ettoubaji. Rober  La Cawe, a Moroccan-French driver, was also part of the race. He finished 14th and 3rd in F2.

The event, the 1958 Grand Prix of Morocco, was the first and last race to be organized in Casablanca and the kingdom. Following the accident of Stuart Lewis-Evans, the federation refused to renew the authorization granted to the Moroccan organizers.

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