Saturday, December 26, 2009

Duncan's mustang ride to victory

Duncan set the fastest times on 12 of the 24 competitive sections to bring the tough and powerful, but bulky Ford Mustang to the finish at Whitesands Hotel nearly 10 minutes ahead of Bjorn Waldegaard and Igbal Sagoo in their compact and speedy Porsche sports two door coupe. Photo/FILE

Duncan set the fastest times on 12 of the 24 competitive sections to bring the tough and powerful, but bulky Ford Mustang to the finish at Whitesands Hotel nearly 10 minutes ahead of Bjorn Waldegaard and Igbal Sagoo in their compact and speedy Porsche sports two door coupe. Photo/FILE 

By SUNDAY NATION Correspondent

The Ford Mustang victory in the Kenya Airways East African Safari Classic is a tribute to Ian Duncan’s incredible natural driving talent, his meticulous rally car development and preparation. Amaar Slatch’s precision navigation provides the cutting edge to the two-man team.

Duncan set the fastest times on 12 of the 24 competitive sections to bring the tough and powerful, but bulky Ford Mustang to the finish at Whitesands Hotel nearly 10 minutes ahead of Bjorn Waldegaard and Igbal Sagoo in their compact and speedy Porsche sports two door coupe.

Now in his late 40s, Duncan is a man of few words except to his close friends. Speaking at the end of the gruelling 10-day 4,000 kilometre rally, he said, “I am delighted with the victory. It has been one of the toughest events of my career. I am so grateful to my sponsors and members of the service crew who have played a massive role in my victory.”

It was left to the runner-up Bjorn Waldegaard, who won the Classic Safari in 2007 driving a Ford Escort, to recognise the greatness of Duncan’s achievement. Waldegaard exclaimed: “Duncan is a fantastic driver. It was hard for me to catch him. He is also a good mechanic and prepared the Mustang very well.”

Calm and cool

Ian Duncan’s potential driving talent was discovered by his parents at their Limuru farm where he spent his early childhood. Whenever his mother’s car became stuck on a farm track during the long rains, 10-year-old Ian was handed the keys to deal with the problem. He always managed to extricate the car from the mud and reach home grinning happily at his success.

At the controls of a rally car, or enduro motorcycle, he is calm and cool while using his uncanny skill to cover each section in the fastest possible time. “He is the quickest driver I have worked with and his reflex actions at high speed are incredible. Navigating for Ian is a pleasure and we have a great team spirit in and out of the car which is vital to deal with the challenges of our sport.” said Amaar Slatch who has navigated Ian Duncan since for over four years.

An outstanding example of Ian Duncan’s superlative driving ability was his first ever Safari Rally in 1983. Teamed with Gavin Bennett as his navigator, he drove a 1400cc Nissan pick-up. To the astonishment of his fellow competitors, rally fans and press, radio and TV reporters he finished ninth in his Nissan “debe”.

Competitive situations

At the finish, a seasoned motor sport reporter from Europe exclaimed, “When Ian Duncan gains experience and gets a real car, he will be a truly formidable force in rallying.” In the past 26 years, this prediction has been proved time and again.

Duncan’s talent at the wheel is matched by his engineering skill. This was developed from his school boy interest in all things mechanical. “I was a reluctant student at St. Mary’s School and in the opinion of my parents I spent far too much time tinkering with cars and motorcycles. “In later years, this helped me to appreciate the importance of developing and preparing my rally cars. For me competitive driving is great fun, but this pleasure is only achievable with many hours of work on my machines.”

In addition to helping repair cars and motorcycles in his early teens, Ian started racing motorcycles in 125cc motocross events. In 1979 at the age of 18, he captured the 125cc National Motocross Championship on a Yamaha and repeated this success in the following year.

He now competes in enduro events which involve racing big bikes for long distances over rough ground. “Handling motorcycles in competitive situations, sharpens your reactions. Balancing a piki over bumpy surfaces at high speeds helps you to take a rally car to the limit,” said Ian Duncan.

By 1986, the combination of Ian Duncan’s driving talent and engineering skill had attracted the attention of Toyota. Jan Thoenes, who was the Managing Director of Toyota Kenya Limited, provided him with a Toyota Celica Group B for the National Rally Championship. Duncan and his navigator Ian Munro, responded with nine victories and a runner-up finish to capture the 1987 title by a wide margin.

Development driver

The triumph of winning the first of his five rally championships was crowned by the 1987 Motor Sportsman of the Year Award. Even more important for his motor sport career, was his appointment as development driver in Kenya for Toyota Team Europe. Duncan spent three years developing and testing components for the Toyota Celica GT4.

In a tribute to Duncan’s development work and recognition of his Safari Rally winning potential, Ove Anderson, the Manager of Toyota Team Europe gave him a place in the works team. Navigated by Dave Williamson, the young Kenyan driver finished a creditable sixth. In the following year, the Toyota team dominated the Safari with Juha Kankkunen in first place, Markku Alen runner-up and Ian Duncan and Dave Williamson in third spot.

Further intensive development, testing and recce work for Toyota preceded the 1994 Safari. The practice car was completely rebuilt for Ian Duncan and Dave Williamson and they joined the works trio of team drivers Juha Kankkunen, Didier Auriol and Yoshio Fujimoto.

Auriol led the Safari in the early stages, but dropped back with mechanical problems. Both Fujimoto and Kankkunen crashed out of the event leaving the Kenyan crew of Ian Duncan and Dave Williamson firmly in charge. This was Ian Duncan’s most important rally victory demonstrating his world class ability.

Taking first place in the Kenya Airways East African Safari Classic at the wheel of his 1967 Ford Mustang ranks as a major achievement for Ian Duncan and is another motor sport success for Ford which has had a long association with the safari rally. In 1963 Peter Hughes grabbed the attention of Safari Rally fans by finishing runner-up in a 1200cc Ford Anglia. This was a prelude for even greater successes.

The following year, Hughes won the world’s toughest rally in a Ford Cortina and three of these cars finished in the top ten - a result which was hailed by sports writers as “the Cortina Conquest”. During the next four years, Cortinas finished consistently in the list of top ten Safari finishers and in 1969, Robin Hillyar brought a Ford Taunus home first. In the 70s Ford contested the world Rally Championship with a team of Escort saloons which achieved a long list of rally victories.

Hannu Mikola captured the Safari crown at the wheel of a Ford Escort in 1972 and this success was repeated by the legendary Bjorn Waldegaard in 1977. Driving Ford Focus machines Colin McRae won the Safari in 1999 and 2002. Waldegaard returned to Kenya for the 2007 Classic Safari and took first spot in a Ford Escort.

Few accidents

Jan Thoenes, who was the competitor relations officer for the 2009 Classic Safari commented, “Ian Duncan is a rare example of a multi-talented individual who is both an outstanding driver and a top class engineer. Above all he is a safe driver with remarkably few accidents in a long and successful rallying career. If he was not so modest and quiet and if he had been based in Europe, he could have been given a place in a works team.”

The last word comes from Peter Hughes, a former Safari winner and rally, track and touring car champion and motor sport administrator. He said: “Undoubtedly Ian Duncan is one of the very best home grown Kenyan drivers. He has amazingly quick reactions and technical skills and is an outstanding tactician. These attributes enabled him to outclass a pack of strong overseas drivers in Porsches and Datsun 260Zs and win this year’s Classic Safari in his 1967 Ford Mustang.”

Further intensive development, testing and recce work for Toyota preceded the 1994 Safari. The practice car was completely rebuilt for Ian Duncan and Dave Williamson and they joined the works trio of team drivers Juha Kankkunen, Didier Auriol and Yoshio Fujimoto.

Auriol led the Safari in the early stages, but dropped back with mechanical problems. Both Fujimoto and Kankkunen crashed out of the event leaving the Kenyan crew of Ian Duncan and Dave Williamson firmly in charge. This was Ian Duncan’s most important rally victory demonstrating his world class ability.

Taking first place in the Kenya Airways East African Safari Classic at the wheel of his 1967 Ford Mustang ranks as a major achievement for Ian Duncan and is another motor sport success for Ford which has had a long association with the safari rally.

In 1963 Peter Hughes grabbed the attention of Safari Rally fans by finishing runner-up in a 1200cc Ford Anglia. This was a prelude for even greater successes. The following year, Hughes won the world’s toughest rally in a Ford Cortina and three of these cars finished in the top ten - a result which was hailed by sports writers as “the Cortina Conquest”.

Outstanding driver

During the next four years, Cortinas finished consistently in the list of top ten Safari finishers and in 1969, Robin Hillyar brought a Ford Taunus home first. In the 70s Ford contested the world Rally Championship with a team of Escort saloons which achieved a long list of rally victories.

Hannu Mikola captured the Safari crown at the wheel of a Ford Escort in 1972 and this success was repeated by the legendary Bjorn Waldegaard in 1977. Driving Ford Focus machines, Colin McRae won the Safari in 1999 and 2002. Waldegaard returned to Kenya for the 2007 Classic Safari and took first spot in a Ford Escort.

Jan Thoenes, who was the competitor relations officer for the 2009 Classic Safari commented, “Ian Duncan is a rare example of a multi-talented individual who is both an outstanding driver and a top class engineer. Above all he is a safe driver with remarkably few accidents in a long and successful rallying career. If he was not so modest and quiet and if he had been based in Europe, he could have been given a place in a works team.”

The last word comes from Peter Hughes, a former Safari winner and rally, track and touring car champion and motor sport administrator. He said: “Undoubtedly Ian Duncan is one of the very best home grown Kenyan drivers. He has amazingly quick reactions and technical skills and is an outstanding tactician. These attributes enabled him to outclass a pack of strong overseas drivers in Porsches and Datsun 260Zs and win this year’s Classic Safari in his 1967 Ford Mustang.”