Circuito di Mellaha Tripoli
Rarely became a circuit that has existed such a short time so famous as the circuit of Tripoli in Libya, then a colony of Fascist Italy. This page tells about the arise of the circuit, the Tripoli Grand Prix, and what happened with it after World War Two.
The first time a Grand Prix was held in Libya, which was an Italian protectorate from 1912 to 1942, was in 1925. It was held at a slow "Monaco style" street circuit, near the capital Tripoli, which was not very popular by public and drivers.
In 1933 the authorities, in particular Italo Balbo - the new governor of Libya under Mussolini - decided that the Tripoli Grand Prix should become a major event.
A new street circuit was built, the fastest in the world, around the Mellaha salt lake with the most modern facilities at that time. A huge grandstand and an imposing control tower appeared at Start/Finish.
The layout of the track was extremely fast. Almost all the corners of the 13,14 km (8.21 Miles) long circuit where fast kinks, most of them where flat-out!
Governor Balbo shakes hands with the drivers at the starting grid.
There was also a lottery linked to the race. The numbers of the cars where linked to the numbers at the lottery tickets and the holder of the number that was linked to the winning car should win 7,5 million Lire.
The first race at Mellaha lake in 1933 resulted in a race-fixing scandal when top drivers made a deal with a ticketholder to share into the prize money. Since than the numbers where drawn five minutes before the start of the race when the drivers are in the cars.
The last Tripoli Grand Prix was held in 1940. Than also Libya get involved in World War Two and there where no more races.
In 1943 Libya came under British authority and in 1949 the UN decided that Libya should become an independent kingdom. In 1969 Colonel Gaddafi came to power by a coup. He would exercise his authority over the country for the next 42 years.
Inside the circuit was an airbase of the Italian Air Force which was built in 1923. In January 1943 the airbase was taken by the British and since the spring of 1943 it was used by the Americans for bombardment flights.
In 1954 the American government agreed with the Libyan government that they could use the airbase until the end of 1971. In this period the airbase was extended which was a disaster for the circuit!
The huge grandstand and the control tower where demolished and the start/finish area was changed into a new runway. Now the famous race track was history!
In September 1969 Colonel Gaddafi came to power in Libya and demanded the Americans to leave the airbase and hand it over to Libya. After negotiations both parties agreed that the base would be handed over to Libya in December 1969.
Ironically, on April the 15th 1986 this airbase was bombed by the Americans. Since 1995 the former airbase is a civil airport called Mitiga International Airport. In 2011 the airport was the scene of fights in the revolt against Gaddafi.
About 50% of the roads who formed once this renowned track are still there. But the start/finish area including al the buildings is completely gone! Only a few people will recognize this place as the location of one of the most illustrious race tracks in motor racing history.
© Text: Herman Liesemeijer Pictures: Paolo Cason Lottery tickets and posters: Lotteria Italia