Almost six decades after its launch as the Coronation Rally to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s ascendance to the throne in 1953, the Safari Rally’s fire continues to burn, attracting huge interest from across the globe.
Today, 84 drivers, each with varied inspiration, will line up at the start of this year’s Safari at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) with just one ambition: to conquer their fear and romp home first and be crowned the winner of the 2011 edition of the Safari Rally.
Almost all the drivers who will be starting the rally were not born when the idea to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was hatched.
But they had learnt of the event and grew up yearning to compete alongside the professionals as the rally grew in leaps and bounds and was appropriately tagged “the world’s toughest rally.”
President Mwai Kibaki will flag off this year’s competition from the KICC from noon.
Quest for points
Gender, nationality and car make will count for nothing as two Africa rally champions, Jamie Whyte, navigated by Phil Archenoul (Zimbabwe) in a Subaru Impreza N10 and Conrad Rautenbach navigated by Nicolas Klinger (Zimbabwe) in a Ford Fiesta S2000, go head-to-head for the ARC points while on the local front, Dalbit-sponsored Carl Tundo has grounds to gain on his opponents in the battle for the Kenya National Rally Championship.
Tundo, co-driven by Tim Jessop in a Mitsubishi Evo9, has to roll up his sleeves as he takes on Alastair Cavenagh, the KNRC champion who has Gavin Laurence reading his pace notes.
Then there is the OiLibya crew of Azar Anwar and his partner Julius Ngigi in a Mitsubishi Evo8, Baldev Charger and navigator Raju Sehmi (Mitsubishi Evo9) plus National Oil Corporation’s Ian Duncan and Amaar Slatch, all seeking to see their cars through the reliability test and back to the podium in one piece after the gruelling 730km drive of which 302 will be competitive on closed roads while 423 will be transport.
Experience a bonus
“This rally has got everything. There are very fast stages, slippery, muddy and with boulders all seeking to test the exposure and competence of each competitor. Experience will be a bonus, but it remains a very fast rally,” said Dally Kalsi, the clerk of the course.
From KICC after the pomp and colour of the opening ceremony, Zimbabwean Whyte will be seeking to paint Nairobi roads red as he leads the folks in a Subaru Impreza with his navigator Archenoul seeking precision after going through the recee on Thursday.
The rally proper starts in the afternoon at Jamhuri Park, where the first car will go through the 2.2 kilometre Spectator Stage from 2.51pm.
Tomorrow, the cars head to Ndialongoi, Ii-Bissel, Kamakuru, Maparasha and Mashuru areas for a race that will start at 7.04 am at Il Bissel. President Kibaki’s appearance at the KICC yesterday for the opening of the Iranian exhibition delayed the scrutineering, but the drivers made up for the lost time in a last-minute effort to get the sanction to rally.
All the 84 cars were expected to go through the scrutineering, with 42 cars enlisted in the main in FIA African Rally Championship Class, 22 in the Supplementary Class and 20 in the Two-wheel Drive category.
There will be 10 former champions lining up for a piece of the Safari Rally. Duncan, Tundo, and Anwar have chalked up the Safari Rally title before, but for KNRC champion Cavenagh, Charger, Peter Horsey and Jas Mangat, the allure of a first Safari Rally gong is too appealing. With a win and two retirements this season, Cavenagh’s chance of seizing up a third KNRC title this year appears to be drifting away.
“I really need to win the Safari and score maximum points for me to defend the KNRC title. So we will go flat out from the start,” said Cavenagh.
Chager, who has acquired a new Subaru Impreza N14 car, will push his opponents like Rautenbach (Ford Fiesta S2000), Tundo and Duncan (Mitsubishi Evo9s).
Peter and his brother Alex Horsey represent a batch of younger drivers with the hunger to win. In the Supplementary class, former 2WD Champions Alfir Khan and Jasmeet Chana will be going at the top speed in Competition cars lined up at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre awaiting the final inspection (scutineering) ahead of Friday’s start of the 59th Safari Rally. President Mwai Kibaki will flag off the cars from noon Friday at the same venue for the three-day annual competition.