NAIROBI, Kenya, July 7- Hard work and smart driving made all the difference for Baldev Singh Chager and nagivator Ravi Soni resulting as they stormed to their maiden KCB Safari Rally on Sunday in Kajiado to become the 61st winner of the legendary event.
Chager who switched to the more reliable Mitsubishi Evolution 10 early this year, managed to win the coveted title with a massive 10.06 minute margin over veteran and former champion Azar Anwar.
The win saw him beat the seasoned Anwar to second place while Quentin Mitchell sealed the podium dash.
Chager led the event from the second day to the very last stage becoming the first Sikh driver to achieve the feat in 37 years since the legendary Joginder Singh Bachu last won it with David Doig.
Joginder has won the Safari three times with his brother Jaswant Singh in 1965 and 1974 and 1976 with David Doig.
Chager’s calm and assured march to last service at AIC Olekajuado Girls School along the Namanga Highway belied the excitement that was bubbling underneath and it exploded in a solid stream of joy when he drove into his designated service area.
He won the season opening rally in Kajiado last January, and following his biggest career win, Chager has served notice to defending Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) titleholder, Carl Tundo making him believe that there will be no realistic chance of winning back the title.
A Safari win counts as 160 points on the board, double the tally of 80 awarded in the other rounds of the KNRC since the pristine event is part of the Africa Rally Championships roster with a push to re-instate it to the World Rally Championship calender after it was stripped off in 2003 adding to its majesty.
Chager needs to finish third in the next three events in Mombasa, KIsumu and the prestigious Guru Nanak Rally which is associated with Sikhism to round off the domestic crown for the first time since he won it in 2008 when he was a devout disciple of the Subaru make.
“Championship hopes are definitely over,” said Tundo who retired in the long 84 kilometer stage running from Il-Biseel all the way to Parane as he watched his heir apparent sweep to the top honours on the sidelines.
Chager had his campaign effectively sewn up when 1994 Safari Rally winner, Ian Duncan, he of the ‘Flying Sausage’ fame retired on Saturday with turbo problems and Tundo following with engine failure on the final day.
“The Safari is always magical to win. We have tried to win it for many years, we’ve been leading a couple of times but we’ve always ended up having problems. This year we were leading from the second stage all the way to the end. I’m happy that everything was on my side.” The ecstatic freshly coined King of the Safari enthused.
His sentimental win applied the icing on the event that was three days of high octane action. For the second time in his domestic rallying career, Onka Rai saw the world upside down after rolling while it was second time unlucky for Richard Onyoni, who returned to the sport after a four year sabattical, after his car burst into flames although he and his pace notes reader escaped unscathed.
Mitchell savoured a second podium on the Safari in as many years.
“This is a real testimony to our team for keeping us going on one of the toughest safaris in history! I really want to thank my navigator Robin Dimbleby, Geoff Jones, Colin Schreiber, family, and the entire QMR Team,” said the rising young driver.
1. Baldev Chager 2:51.03
2. Azar Anwar 3:01.09
3. Quentin Mitchell 3:20.36
4. Frank Tundo 3:06.08
5. Manvir S. Baryan 3:10.56
6. Rajbir Rai 3:13.35
7. Essa M. 3:19.45
8. Jasmeet Chana 3:24.43
9. Tejvir Rai 3:29.06
10. Don Smith 3:30.10
11. Jaswinder Chana 3:37.41
12. Anwar Pandya 3:37.57
13. Steve Gacheru 3:40.11
14. Nzioka Waita 3:40.50
15. Hardeep Rehsi 3:43.35
16. Jas Mangat 3.58.33