CIRCUITS: AFRICAN MOTOR RACING

Name: African motor racing

Since the decolonization of the European empires, racing on the African continent has been very limited and only in South Africa has there be any consistent development of racing facilities. The rest of the continent has been either too poor to worry about luxuries or in political turmoil. Rallying has been more successful with the Safari, Ivory Coast and Paris-Dakar rallies all becoming major international events.

In the 1920s and 1930s there was racing in North Africa where French and Italian influence was strong. Most of these races were on road courses or in the streets of cities but none of these have survived. The most dramatic was Mellaha in what is now Libya, which hosted the Tripoli Grand Prix.

The French colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia all featured major events in the years between the wars with the Moroccan Grand Prix - a touring car event in Casablanca - beginning in 1925. In 1930 the event was switched to a new course at Anfa airfield. After World War II there were races for Formula 1 machinery with the 1958 race counting for the World Championship.

Until the late 1950s there were also regular sportscar events in the towns of Tangier and Agadir. In recent years there has been feasibility studies into holding an F1 event in the Moroccan town of Marrakesh.

In neighboring Algeria racing was a regular feature in Algiers, which hosted the Algerian GP in the prewar years, while there were also races at Bona and on the Arcole track near Oran. The outbreak of an uprising in 1954 led to the protracted Algerian War and ultimately to independence for the country in 1962. After the French control ended the country did not develop much and in recent years has slipped back towards conflict between Christians and Islamic fundamentalists.

French influence was also strong in Tunisia where the first Tunisian GP took place at Bardo in 1928. The event was later moved to Carthage - which was used in the 1930s - and was briefly revived after the war on a circuit at Belvedere.

The French influence also resulted in racing in Senegal, a very fast track being laid out in the 1950s on a stretch of dual carriageway near Dakar.

The Portuguese colonies also featured racing but this did not develop until the 1960s. Circuits in both Mozambique and Angola were included in the winter Springbok sportscar series - giving Europeans a chance to find a little sunshine. The track in Lourenco Marques, the capital of Mozambique, was a 2.1 mile street circuit although it also ran alongside the coast amid sand dunes. The race in Luanda, Angola, was also around the streets and also featured a waterfront section. Because of the excessive heat - and to avoid disrupting the city - qualifying for the event was held in the early hours of the morning. When it came to the race, however, most of the cars overheated. As the Angolan civil war escalated so the Europeans stopped traveling to Angola and continued fighting means that the racing world has never returned.

Many of the British colonies had races - often simply races in normal cars between the British residents. These were often held on airfields as organizing closed circuits was not easy. Where there was political stability - and a climate which made racing feasible - racing did develop, notably in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where there was a regular Rhodesian GP on the airfield at Kumalo in the early 1960s. After Ian Smith announced the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in November 1965 there were economic sanctions against the country but there was still enough money around for the construction of a purpose-built 2.5-mile racing circuit at Bulawayo. For several years the Bulawayo Three Hours was a major event in the Springbok sportscar series.

In the 1970s the country began to suffer from military attacks from the ZAPU and ZANU guerrillas operating from Zambia and Mozambique. In 1976 these two forces combined to form the Patriotic Front and by 1979 Smith was forced to accept that the whites in Rhodesia would have to hand over power. Since independence there has been no racing of note although in recent years there have been events at Donnybrooke, near Harare.

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