NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 15 – Kenya’s prestigious Safari Rally stretches its roots back to May 27, 1953 when it was a delightfully amateur event that revved-off with 57 local drivers.
Interestingly, no winner was declared, no service crews were allowed, and repairs had to be done by the participants themselves.
However, it is alleged that drivers were allowed to use a dealer workshop enroute. It was inevitable but with time, the Safari Rally attracted professional drivers and international media.
It started with drivers from East Africa and spread like a wildfire. The Safar Rally was first granted international status in 1957 and was known as the East African Coronation Rally, traversing Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika, now known as Tanzania.
The Rally as we know it started off as a celebration for the coronation of the Queen Elizabeth II who was on holiday in Kenya one year earlier when she learnt of the death of her father, King George VI.
The Safari Rally was widely regarded as the most popular African Rally and grew bigger every year. It was renamed the East African Safari Rally in 1960. It kept the name until 1974 when it was named the Safari Rally.
It’s popularity and the challenge it threw at drivers and manufacturers, saw it return to the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar in 2020 after a successful Candidate event held in 2018.
The Rally was eliminated from the WRC calendar in 2003 due to what was termed as lack of finances and safety concerns at the time.
The 19 years hiatus has wet the pallet of rally drivers and fans across the world. The Safari Rally begun its journey of recovery by being added on the ARC (Africa Rally Championship) in 2003 another event is organized by the FIA.
On September 27, 2019, the Safari Rally was included onto the WRC calendar and was scheduled to run on the 16th and 19th of July in 2020 but did not take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic that brought all sporting activities to a halt.
This year though, preparations are in high gear to ensure that the WRC Safari Rally sticks to its schedule between June 24 to 27 with the cars expected to traverse the scenic route around the Great Rift Valley.
The Safari Rally brought together some of the world’s best drivers and gave some local drivers a chance to compete against the best and show the world that Kenya was the rally capital of the Continent.
The first Safari Rally was won by Allan Dix and Johnny Larsen in a VW Beetle. Over the years more we saw more local drivers horn their skills and went into the books as Kenyan legends.
The growing list included names like Shakta Mehta, who had a record five victories, Joghinder Singh who won the rally a couple of times in the 70’s, Ian Duncan in the 90’s, Glen Edmunds in 2003 amongst others.
However, it wasn’t a walk in the park because the local drivers had to compete against some of the world’s best, with the likes Hannu Mikola in a Ford Escort, Bjorn Waldegard in a Ford Escort, Juha Kankunen in Toyota Celica GT Four ST 165 back in 1995, Mikki Biason who won it twice in 1996 and 1997 in a Lancia Delta HF Intergrale, Carlos Sainz Senior in Toyota Celica Four Wheel Drive, Yoshio Fujimoto, Colling Mc Rae in a Subaru Impreza WRC97, Richard Burns in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IV among others.
As we draw closer to the WRC Safari rally, the event organizers say all will be ready by June for the three-day event with the world’s finest rally drivers as they converge in Kenya to face the multiple challenges of dust, mud, fatigue and windy dirt roads as they compete for the title of the first WRC Safari Rally since 2002.
However, before that, there will be the ARC Rally, better known as the Equator Rally, which will act as a dress rehearsal for African drivers.