CIRCUITS: MELLAHA, LIBYA

Name: Mellaha, Libya

The city of Tripoli was of special significance to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who dreamed of creating an empire to rival that of ancient Rome. Italian racing success in the 1920s was seen by the dictator as something which could be promoted to benefit the image of a strong and successful Italy so events were organized on a racing circuit at Mellaha, near the city. The first event took place in 1925 but in the early years interest was limited because the track was slow and uninteresting. In 1933 Mussolini decided that the Tripoli Grand Prix should become a major international event and a new track - the fastest in the world - was built. It was 8.14 miles in length and roughly rectangular in shape. It was made up of sweeping curves and fast straights. There was an imposing grandstand, impressive pit garages and an elegant white control tower.

In order to create excitement Mussolini organized a national lottery to celebrate the event. Millions of tickets were sold and 30 winners were chosen - each being given the start number of one of one of the cars in the race. Legend has it that Enrico Rivio, a timber merchant from Pisa, drew Achille Varzi's number and on arrival in Tripoli called to see the star and a deal was struck between the main rivals for the race to be fixed. They would all take a share of the vast prize fund.

It has never been established as to who was involved in the scam but all the top racers of the era were present for the race - except Rudi Caracciola, who had broken his thigh in a crash at Monaco. Varzi won the race but there were suspicions that it had been fixed and a tribunal was held. Varzi, Tazio Nuvolari, Baconin Borzacchini, Giuseppe Campari and Louis Chiron were all suspected of having been involved but the affair was swept under the carpet to avoid a scandal.

In the late 1930s the Germans came to dominate at Mellaha and the event survived until after the 1940 race. The region was fought over during World War II and in 1943 came under British control. In 1949 the United Nations voted that Libya should become an independent kingdom and a king appointed. The country remained poor until oil was discovered in 1959 and the country boomed but motor racing did not return.

In 1969 the king was deposed in a coup d'etat organized by Colonel Gaddafi and for many years Libya has remained cut off from the outside world. The Paris-Dakar Rally has run on stages in Libya but the visits have been infrequent.

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