NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 12 – Kenyan rally ace Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo and high drama are strange bedfellows. In his stellar KCB Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) career, that has reaped two titles in three years, the Nakuru based wheat farmer is never far away from the extraordinary.In 2005, he lost the national title to veteran Azar Anwar at Guru Nanak Rally by only five seconds after a storming finish to the season that left him needing to finish ahead of the former or a place behind in the top four to clinch what would have been his maiden title.
Tundo’s title assault the following year was scuppered not by mechanical problems or lack of sponsorship but by the murder case involving convicted landowner, Tom Cholmondeley after the rally driver was reported to have been with the descendant of British settler, Lord Delamare at his Soysambu Ranch during the shooting incident.
In 2007, the son of legendary driver of Italian extraction, Frank Tundo finally came good by winning the KNRC title after his sustained drive, level-headedness and determination finally paid off. Last year, a number of rolls put paid to his title defence as his crown went to Baldev Chager, the man who denied him the 2005 title when he finished between him and Anwar at the Guru Nanak Rally.
Incidentally, it was at the same event last weekend where Tundo clinched his fifth victory of the season and a second title in spectacular fashion when closest challenger, Lee Rose broke his sump-guard with only 4km to go while leading allowing Tundo to overtake him and claim the 30th Guru Nanak Rally.
“This is absolutely brilliant. I feel unhappy for Lee because I inherited the lead from him and sealed the championship, but that’s rallying,” said Tundo adding, “This one is better than the last one. It has not sunk in yet, maybe after I down one or two it will all become clear.”
Growing up in Lanet, Tundo horned his rallying skills in the expansive wheat farm under the guidance of his father and although relatively young, embodies the breed of top KNRC drivers who crave for endurance rallies.
“The longer they are the better for me. I’m not saying I cannot do well in sprint rallies but I believe that events should be made longer like Safari and Guru Nanak to fully test drivers skills,” Tundo, who has won the Safari Rally, considered to the world’s toughest rally twice (2004 and this year) in his career.
The newly crowned champion is one corner of parallel forces in local rallying battling to mould the future of the sport to suit their preferred mode of competition, a tussle that has left Kenya Motor Sport Federation (KMSF) no choice but to sit on the fence.
The only hope for the local motor sport governing body is that sands of time will eventually end the raging debate.
“Which way to go for Kenyan rallying?” veteran driver, Azar Anwar posed to KMSF officials at a media briefing in June.
Azar, with three Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) titles under his belt among a string of other honours stands out as a true veteran in the sport.
With over 35 years behind the wheel of various rally cars, he is one proponent of the sport who embodies its evolvement in the country.
Azar, 54, is also one of the most vocal campaigners for local rallying to be reverted back to longer stages on open roads and in front of crowds.
“We want the public to own these events in the spirit of our sponsors KCB who want to take rallying to the people. The public can be involved with us to ensure that certain roads are closed for a few hours so that we can race for their enjoyment,” Anwar charged then.
“Nowadays, we are doing rallies where roads are not challenging and most drivers complained at the Safari Rally since most of the route was straight driving.
“I’m not saying that a challenging course should involve rocks and surfaces to break cars but should have things like bridges, corners, sharp turns and longer stages,” the 2006 KNRC winner said.
The other school of thought is fronted by drivers such as Quentin Mitchell, the 21 year-old upcoming prospect who was in last year’s Kenyan team for the Pirelli Star Driver competition.
Although he did not win the competition, which would have seen him fully sponsored to participate in the International Rally Challenge (IRC) events for a year, Mitchell has potential to be a future dominant force in local rallying.
“There is nowhere in the world where rallying is being done in open roads. I am appealing to farm owners of anyone with huge tract of land to allow us rally in their property.
“For young drivers like myself, it gives us a chance to attack the big boys. With crowds on the route, you cannot for instance take a corner with speed,” Mitchell disclosed.
“The future of our rallying depends on competing in closed areas which is even safer for drivers and spectators. We want to entertain but there is no reason to say, kill five people while seeking to impress a crowd,” the Mitsubishi EVO 8 driver said.
Former KMSF General Director, Achie Khan, told this website in an earlier interview, “We are experiencing a generation gap between the old style rallying school typical of Azar and Ian Duncan and that I call ‘Play Station’ drivers who like speed.
“Each group has a unique characteristic. The older ones want us to go the way of the East Africa Classic Safari Rally, with long competitive distances while the other side prefers short, quick and closed routes.”
Achie pointed out open rallying leads to development of endurance factor due to what he described as ‘drive by sight’ technique.
It involves the driver not relying much on the pace notes provided by organizers and co-driver, instead making most judgment by counting on his own vision.
For younger drivers the former general manager explained any mistake by the co-driver or in pace notes would lead to potential disasters.
“They go flat out depending heavily on what they have been given and instructions being given to them by their navigators. That is why a number end up in accidents,” Achie disclosed.
“We have three events, organised by Rally Sports Club, Kenya Motor Sports Club and Mombasa Sports Club that use open roads,” Achie said.
“The other five rounds are in closed circuits as per regulations in FIA (international body) rules,” he added.
His successor, Newton Njiru intimated to Capital website that the debate was still raging between the two groups.
“We have one event to go before the season ends (the November 7 and 8 Mombasa Rally) and after that, the matter will be discussed as we seek a solution,” the general manager said.
“KMSF will listen to all competitors and their recommendations and try the best to accommodate both interests. There is a lot of discussing going on since everybody has his own views but in the end. The debate will most likely be settled by the Rallies Commission (within KMSF) and it’s just a matter of time before the issue ends up there,” Njiru added.
For KMSF that needs both sets of drivers on board to sustain the popular sport, a delicate balancing act is needed to avert a situation that could potentially polarise its marquee event.