Tempest in Morocco

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November’s Morocco Rally, the third since its revival in 1985 after a gap of nine years, looked set to be a vast improvement on the first two, which suffered from a variety of re-teething troubles. Indeed, the 50-strong entry list, a more concentrated route and a base at Marrakesh rather than at Casablanca promised to produce an event more reminiscent of those of the late Sixties and Seventies than the versions of 1985-86.

Alas, that was not to be. Atrocious weather, enthusiastic but weak organisation and the need to conform to FISA’s demands that stages be short and timed to the second all combined to reduce the rally to a shadow of its former self, and all but rip it apart at the seams.

Storms, floods and landslides caused devastating damage in the country and the deaths of several people in and around the High Atlas at the time of the rally, and in this respect the organisers had no choice but to cancel whole chunks of the route and to shorten others. But this was no excuse for marshals misreading watches and positioning themselves in the wrong places, nor for stewards deciding, on the grounds of safety, to reposition a stage finish control after some half-dozen cars had gone through, which led to the cancellation of those results of course!

Originally, the 1400-mile route included 13 competitive sections, as the stages were called, totalling 480 miles, but cancellations due to weather and misplaced controls reduced that to just six stages totalling 243 miles. Reduce that further by one 93-mile stage which was timed so slackly that three cars cleaned it and you will see that the competition for victory was really based on no more than five stages totalling 150 miles.

We do not wish to appear too harsh on organisers who were extremely hard-pressed by weather conditions, and sometimes frustrated by stewards whose main concern seemed to be producing immaculate minutes of their “boardroom” sessions, but the 1987 event was not a patch on its forerunners.

Frustrated too was Mohammed Bin Sulayem from Dubai and his British codriver John Spiller, who finished second in their Mike Little-prepared Sierra Cosworth, just 52 seconds behind the Citroen Visa of Frenchman Maurice Chomat. Bin Sulayem is convinced that were it not for the stage which was cleaned by three cars, he would have emerged the winner, and this could very well be the case, of course. Among the finishers were British privateers Basil Wadman and Steve Turvey who battled through a variety of problems to finish seventeenth in their Peugeot 505.

It is a great shame that for three years this once-great event has turned out to be second rate, but we are still convinced that Morocco can host a rally which would rival the world’s best. The people are wonderful and the country magnificent. In addition to some sensible rule revision by FISA, all it needs is the right catalyst, and in the latter respect perhaps sponsors Marlboro should take a hand. GP