NAIROBI, Kenya, June 9- Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) board leader Baldev Chager will be seeking his third Safari Rally title when this year’s event revs off at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre on Friday morning for a 243km competitive distance.
‘The flying Singh’, as he is fondly referred by his fans, won the Safari Rally twice consecutively in 2013 and 2014, but fell short last year finishing fourth after battling through his car’s mechanical hitches on day two, losing to Kisumu based speed-star Jaspreet Chatthe.
Chager, who has brought in an improved version of his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo-10 to this year’s event, is hoping to continue his fine start to the season as he currently leads the chart with 37 points.
“The 2013, and 2014 seasons were fantastic years. We had an older Evo-10 which was a magical car and did so well for us. We hope that this new car brings us the same luck this year.
“We are already leading the championship though it’s not comfortable but we want to keep it that way all the way to the end and win the championship,” a confident Chager told Capital Sport on Thursday as his new Kabras Sugar-sponsored machine went through the mandatory pre-event scrutineering process.
This year’s 10 stage event will revolve around the Soysambu area in Lake Elemntaita with two spectator stages set in the entire 542km rally.
After the flag off at the KICC on Friday morning, the cars will head to Jamhuri Park for a 2.2km first competitive section before a 130km transport road section and overnight at the Lake Elemntaita Lodge.
Day two (Saturday) will see drivers tackle a competitive section of 37km at Lake Elemntaita before drivers head to the third competitive section from Soysambu to the Lake which is the longest section at 48km.
The second spectator stage will be at the Lake Elementatita Lodge and will be 2km long.
The fifth and sixth stages will be a repeat of the 37km Elementaita stretch and the 48km Lake-end before the day closes with the seventh competitive section, a repeat of the Elemntaita Lodge spectator stage.
Day three will have two new sections, a 25km stretch in Delamere West and a further 38km stretch in Delamere East before a final thread around the Elemntaita Lodge spectator stage.
In total, the 42 drivers who have entered for this year’s race will go through 243km of competitive racing and a 298 non-competitive distance.
Chager, navigated by Soni Ravi comes off fresh from winning the Kisumu KNRC leg and though he expects it tough in the belated second round of the series, he has his eyes cast on topping the podium.
“We have done quite some tests this week with our new car and we feel we are ready. Definitely, it is a tough rally expected; anyone from the top ten is my serious competitor. Tappio is seriously quick, Ian Duncan has become exceptionally fast of late and Carl Tundo is back with an Evo-10 for this event and we look forward to a challenge,” Chager added.
-Chatthe seeded first-
Defending champion Chatthe will be the first off the rails and the Kisumu based driver known for his scintillating fast drives off any terrain will hope to do better and improve on his sixth spot.
Chatthe won last year’s Safari Rally 13 seconds ahead of Ian Duncan which is the smallest ever recorded margin in the history of the Safari Rally since it was first held in 1953.
Apart from Chatthe and Chager, competition is also expected from another ferocious driver in ‘The Flying Fin’ Tapio Laukannen and Nakuru based Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo.
Tundo, also in an Evo-10 navigated by long time partner Tim Jessop will be seeking to pick his fifth Safari Rally crown and equal Chandrashekhar Mehta’s record, having won it in 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Mehta, a Ugandan born Kenya driver won the rally four times in a row between 1979 and 1982, adding on to the first title he won in 1973.
Also to be looked out is Rajbir Rai, who will be heading into the field with the most powerful machine, an R5 Ford Fiesta.
Another driver who will be hoping to tip the balances in this year’s rally is 24-year old Karan Patel, fresh from taking part in the World Rally Championship in Portugal.
Navigated by Tauseef Khan, Patel will rev off with his Mitsubishi Evo-10 eighth from the podium and he believes the experience he has picked from racing in Portugal will help him finish top five.
“The main thing I picked up is the pace notes. I’ve built up my confidence and I have changed to a different style and that will help us towards the Safari. Preps have been good after Kisumu which was a tough rally. While I was away in Portugal my mechanics have worked to get the car back in good shape and I think we are ready now,” Patel offered.
Quinton Mitchelle, who finished third twice consecutively in 2012 and 2013, will be hoping for an improved performance on the podium this year despite the Elementatia race being his first this season.
“It will be tough, but we hope we’ve made enough provisions for the car noting the ground in Soysambu breaks up a lot. We have worked on the vehicle to suite the terrain and I hope we can better our performance in 2012 and 2013. The competition is so tight anyone in the top 15 could probably take it,” he said.
Two-wheel drive defending champion Lenardo Varesse hopes to keep his title though he expects stiff competition from Sammy Nyori and Eric Bengi who will both be racing in a Toyota RunX.
“It is still a long way to go in the championship. Eric Bengi is the guy to beat and we hope to tag along and see on Sunday where we stand. He’s got more power and we hope to fight for second or third.”