'Lightning' strikes twice

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When expatriate Frenchman Jean-Claude Bertrand devised and ran the Ivory Coast’s first Bandama Rally, his idea was that it should become France’s answer to the Safari Rally. It certainly seemed for a few years that the ebullient Bertrand would have his wish, for the event found favour in Paris and the rally attracted some of the leading crews of the time.

The notion that the Ivory Coast Rally, as it became, would topple the Safari from its perch and become a French-speaking replacement appeared to go down very well in the corridors of the CSI, as FISA was at the time, and for a while it seemed that the event could do no wrong.

However, its path became far from smooth and its history is probably more chequered than any event which has been included in the World Championship. It has seen all manner of changes over the years, and its format was once even to have a time control at the start and finish of each leg and nothing but passage controls between, the whole thing then being a gigantic and almost unmanageable road race.

There was one memorable year when the timing was made so tight that there were no finishers at all, there being a near-riot at the end when all prize money was withheld, even from the last two competitors to fall foul of the impossible schedules.

Works teams have been there from time to time, and in the list of its past winners are names such as Mäkinen, Cowan, Nicolas, Mikkola, Waldegard, Saionen, Röhrl, Blomqvist, Kankkunen, Eriksson and Oreille. However, the rally has never achieved anything like the popularity of the Safari and it has become something in the nature of the rally to which nobody wants to go. Nowadays, professionals often shun the event, rival teams even going to the extent of making pacts to omit the rally from their programmes.

There have been unforgettable moments, of course, such as the time when Michelle Mouton came very close indeed to becoming the first woman to take the World Championship title, and when Waldegard and Kankkunen finished with equal penalties and made a pretence of attempting to drive their Toyotas side by side on to the finish ramp. It was also the rally during which Henry Liddon and Nigel Harris were tragically killed when their Toyota radio relay aircraft crashed into dense bush shortly after taking off during a rainstorm at night.

After the Sanremo Rally, the 1992 World Rally Championship for Drivers was still undecided between three contestants in with a chance, but not one of them went to the Ivory Coast. Indeed, there was not a single entry from the established works teams. But the event was a round of the Belgian Championship so there was a strong contingent from that country.

There were four A-seeded drivers. Kenjiro Shinozuka/John Meadows drove a Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, as did local pair Patrick Tauziac/Christian Boy, whilst Austrian adventurers Rudolf Stohl/Reinhard Kaufmann were in their venerable Audi 90 Quattro. Gregoire de Mevius/Willy Lux were in a Sunny GTI-R of the Nissan Belgium Rally Team. Sunny and Pulsar, incidentally, are both names for the same model of car. What it’s called depends on where you are in the world. Bruno Thiry/Stephane Prevot drove an Opel Kadett, Manfred Stohl (Rudolf s son) and Kai Gerlach an Audi 90 Quattro.

The rally was based at Abidjan, the economic capital on the coast where each of the three legs started and finished. Mid-leg rest stops were at Bouake, Yamoussoukro (the political capital where the country’s president was born) and Agboville. The whole event was contained within the centre of the country, and there were no forays, for instance, to the port of San Pedro and the infamous forest of Tai, as there have been almost invariably in the past.

Like the Safari, the event has no special stages and everything is timed in minutes, not seconds. This is enough to find a winner, and this year more than five hours separated the first and tenth finishers.

Organisationally, the rally was better than it has been, and there was not a single complaint of a control being sited in the wrong place, which must be something of a record. However, clock-reading left something to be desired and disputes over times were not uncommon.

When rain falls in the Ivory Coast, it falls just as heavily as it does elsewhere in Africa, and pre-event storms ensured that there was plenty of mud and standing water around when cars left Abidjan on the Saturday morning. Shinozuka was slowed when wet electrics left him with just three working cylinders, this later leading to turbocharger failure.

Rudi Stohl went off the road into such dense undergrowth that it seemed that nightfall had arrived very suddenly indeed. When villagers armed with “pangas” arrived, a path was eventually hacked through the bush and the Audi was manhandled back to the track. Alas, the recovery led to but a short continuing journey, for Stohl went off the road yet again, flying through the air past a line of houses and coming to rest in someone’s front garden! This time there was no hope of carrying on and Stohl was reduced to following the progress of his son.

At the end of the first day, Tauziac, the Abidjan-resident Vietnamese, led in his Galant, followed after five minutes by de Mevius whose main object was to regain the lead of the Group N section of the World Championship.

On the second day, rally leader Tauziac did not get even as far as the mid-leg regrouping stop, his car succumbing to clutch failure. This handed the lead to de Mevius and it looked as though the popular Belgian driver would not only get the Group N points he wanted but would become outright winner since his lead over Thiry was more than half an hour.

But things changed again on the way back to Abidjan from the short stop at Yamoussoukro. de Mevius lost all gears except second and third and, although the gearbox was changed at the end of the leg, the constant use of very high revs and the inevitable overheating left their mark on the engine.

The third leg began with de Mevius, Thiry and Shinozuka in that order, but it was not long before the Nissan’s engine, overheated even more by radiator-clogging mud, expired altogether and de Mevius was out of the rally.

Meanwhile, Thiry had dropped behind Shinozuka who went on to score his second consecutive win on this event. Hiroshi Nishiyama finished fourth and was doubly delighted when he discovered that he had moved into the lead of the World Championship Group N series, just three points ahead of de Mevius.

Results processing, or perhaps the communications thereto, rumbled along rather slowly and it was quite some time before anyone knew who had taken second place. Eventually Thiry emerged in that position, some five minutes ahead of Servant.

It was not a rally of outstanding significance, but at least it took place, its 46 starters no doubt relishing their three-day trip through the steamy vegetation of West Africa. The results make no difference to the lead positions of the World Championship for Drivers which, at the time of writing, await November settlement in Spain and Great Britain, but it must have caused great rejoicing in the Shinozuka tribe, for “Lightning”, as he nicknamed himself many years ago, has now won this event twice in succession.

Ivory Coast Rally – 31 October – 2 November, 1992
Results

1. Kenjiro Shinozuka / John Meadows – Mitsubishi Galant VR4, Gp A
2. Bruno Thiry / Stevan Prevot – Opel Kadett GSi, Gp A
3. Patrice Servant / Thierry Brion -= Audi 90 Quatto, Gp A
4. Hiroshi Nishyama / Hiashi Yamaguchi – Nissan Pulsar GTI-R, Gp N
5. Samir Assef / Clement Konan – Toyota Celica GT-4, Gp A

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