Crikey it’s hot in Marrakesh! It was 45c when I arrived on the 12th July 2016 to attend the launch of the North African 2016 Nissan PlayStation GT Academy. Thankfully a very chilled Nissan Qashqai was waiting to take me to the hotel. The journey to the hotel was an eye opener, UK driving standards now feel ordered and civilised compared to those experienced in Morocco. However, it all seemed to work and drivers must have developed a sixth sense to dodge the hordes of scooters riding wherever they want regardless of lanes, junctions and lights. At last I arrived to the safe haven of Hotel du Golf, a gated resort so no more near misses with scooters, if only for a brief respite.
Nissan Egypt had invited me to Morocco to talk about GT Academy to media guests attending the launch of the competition in the North African region, specifically Algeria, Egypt and Morrocco. Click here to find out more about GT Academy. In addition, I was there to offer advice on track safety to Nissan North Africa’s digital communications team, who wanted to film a precision driving stunt to create social media content. My itinerary for the next few days included a reccie of the motorsport track for the stunt, press conference, which I had a 20-minute slot to present at, followed by Q&A sessions with media guests, tour of Marrakesh, karting endurance race, wake boarding and evening entertainment. So pretty full on!
The key activities were speaking at the press conference and assessing the safety of the social media stunt, in particular track safety. This can be a concern in countries where detailed planning and risk assessments are not necessarily required. Thankfully the track was good, plenty of run off if things went wrong and only one entry and egress point, which we could control preventing any unwanted visitors on the track. The stunt idea was for unsuspecting media guests to receive a fast and furious lap around a section of the World Touring Car Circuit. Our tame racing driver, Lucas Ordonez, who races a Nissan GTR GT3 in the Blancpain GT Endurance Series, would pretend to be a shuttle driver taking guests from the hotel to the track, on arrival he would peel off onto the circuit for an unscheduled high-speed passenger ride in a Nissan Juke equipped with hidden cameras.
The stunt provided a welcomed distraction from the foreboding media talk, as public speaking is not my favourite activity. I followed Nissan Egypt’s Managing Director, Isao Sekiguchi. After me it was the turn of Lucas Ordonez, who was the first winner of GT Academy back in 2008, to address media guests as they welcomed the news that GT Academy was returning to North Africa. With the stunt in the can and talk done it was time to enjoy the rest of the media trip.
Marrakesh is a great location to host automotive event as it hosts a round of the FIA World Touring Championship. Although a street race, part of the track is a permanent and acts as a base for a karting circuit. The area boasts a number of stunning hotels all within 30 minutes of the airport like the Royal Mansour or Mandarin Oriental. Marrakesh also has a rich history, I visited the Majorelle Garden, previously the private gardens of Yves Saint Laurent and Bahia Palace, both interesting additions to the event itinerary. The nightlife is fabulous, we dined and danced at the various lively restaurants, the stand out venue for me was the Palais Jad Mahal.
Seeing the excitement created from the news of GT Academy's return and from having Lucas Ordonez around were both reminders to me of how powerful automotive and motorsport events can be to generate a buzz and influence opinion.