14 days

News Flash


Scrutineering Bay

Not that it's any of my business

Notes from the Cellar

Across the Border

Focal Point







Mail  to a friend

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Family and friends


sportscarpros CottonBalls

Michael & Andrew Cotton
Index Index
Back Back


Top of Page

Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express.....

I must have the word ‘journalist’ tattooed on my forehead, in ink visible only to taxi drivers. Landing at Marrakech airport in the 45 degree heat of a Moroccan summer, I was escorted past the Mercedes E-class taxis and placed neatly in a Fiat Uno with no mats and a failing water pump. We squeaked out of the airport past the police guards who were quietly dying in the shadow of whatever street sign they could find.

It did not take long to work out that the rules of the road were simple; you can pretty much do what you like, as long as you use your horn. The one thing you cannot do, however, is jump a red light, which is what another taxi driver did because he was distracted by a conversation he was having with my driver while negotiating a bus, three cyclists and a horse. Helmets on the mopeds were considered optional, as were seat belts. This was fortunate as, given the state of the taxi, I wanted to be able to jump out before impact.

The taxi ride to the Place Jemaa El Fna in Medina, the magnificent old walled section of the city was curtailed because it was bloody hot and the market was closed. Instead, I was taken to the Kasbah, a shopping section within the rabbit warren of streets, in which I could buy the toothpaste I had forgotten to pack. I would also have been able to buy a motor cycle without a problem.

Puncture repair appeared to be the main business in the Kasbah, followed closely by sitting on an upturned bucket and smoking. I was taken to a herbalist who could make up an aphrodisiac from the root of a mandrake (“have it in tea, and ten minutes, whoopee time”, apparently). I could not see that as being well received back home so I bought a perfume bottle for Mrs Cotton instead.

I had an entertaining conversation in French with the taxi driver on the way to the Medina (certainly he laughed a lot) but on the way back I decided to walk. Half way home, in the desert heat, I realised my mistake and sought a camel to take me home instead.

From the poverty and cramped way of life of the Medina, the new sections of Hivernage and Gueliz are in stark contrast, boasting huge, luxurious and expensive hotels, leafy suburbs. though I didn’t have the time or the inclination to explore, I am sure that the business quarters are attracting massive foreign investment.  From a country that produced barely 100 films in 30 years, now Morocco aims to host 40 a year by 2020, says Easyjet’s in flight magazine. Ridley Scott used the country in House of Lies and Martin Scorsese for The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. Paul Greengrass filmed an action sequence for the Bourne Ultimatum in Tangier.

The streets in the new section were wide, straight and busy. Jay walking for those on foot was compulsory because otherwise I would still be there, dead from the heat. Here, in Morocco, race organisers are preparing to build a grade two category street track which will host the third race of the 2009 World Touring Car Championship.

The ticket prices for the WTCC race will reflect the difference in wealth between the old and the new sections of the city, and I do not doubt that it will be a fantastic success, on the same level as Porto in 2007. Organisers are talking of 100,000 spectators, and they may be right to be optimistic, but in conversation with Eurosport hierarchy, the same cannot be said of the championship.

The television company part owns the championship, and has hired very good people to address two main problems with the WTCC. In discussions with these executives over a bottle of white, some vodka and something else which was pink, it was apparent that neither will be an easy fix.

The first is that it is not considered to be superior to the national championships. The British Touring Car Championship, with Alan Gow back at the helm, is steadily growing in stature once again. Television and crowd figures are rising, the popularity is returning, investment is increasing. So why would anyone move to the WTCC? As talented as Andy Priaulx and James Thompson are behind the wheel of a touring car, they don’t have massive national support in the same way as a driver such as, for example, Matt Neal. Should Neal make the move to World Championship, and somehow find a way to take his national fan base with him, it would have a significant effect on the WTCC. And the same goes for the Belgian, Italian, Swedish, Danish and Asian series.

The second issue that needs addressing is the lack of an iconic race. The Australians have Sandown and Bathurst. The DTM has the Norisring and Hockenheim. The American Le Mans Series has Sebring and the Petit Le Mans. The Le Mans Series trades on the name of Le Mans. The FIA GT Championship has the Spa 24 hours. But the WTCC’s best attended circuit race is Brno in the Czech Republic. That has a long history of touring car racing, especially with the old, daunting and now defunct street circuit which winds its way through the hills on the outskirts of the city. Can the WTCC create its iconic race on the new track?

What are the alternatives? The Spa 24 hours has a long touring car history, but would be too expensive for the many private teams in the WTCC, and manufacturers probably wouldn’t go for the idea either. A 1000km race on the Nurburgring’s Nordschleife ticks some of the boxes, though would suffer from the popularity of the 24 hour race which draws more than 200,000 spectators to the forests within the majestic old circuit. Exotic locations such as Dubai do not suit brands such as Seat, and the series looks set to lose Macau if local elections go the wrong way later this year.

The WTCC needs to create one event during its calendar which stands out beyond anything else, which will draw drivers from national championships, and will draw spectators in their hundreds of thousands. To have immediate impact, it needs a race which will be different, longer, faster, better and more prestigious, offering a massive prize, an exotic location and millions of pounds of investment. It needs a true Grand Prix, Grand Prize, a place where racing will be embraced by the locals, has support from the highest echelons of the country and is of value to the manufacturers. It needs a place with passion and character and you don’t get more charismatic than a Moroccan taxi driver.

If there isn’t a race immediately available, it needs to create one. There are worse places to start such an event than Marrakech.

Andrew Cotton, July 2008