RALLY REVIEW - ZAMBIA RALLY
When the Zambia Rally began as a national event in 1969, it took the form followed by many African events of the time; it was held without special stages and its timing was just in minutes, not seconds. The open road format, although no longer possible in densely populated countries which have heavy traffic, is still used in a number of African events.
In South Africa, on the other hand, competition is invariably on closed road special stages and timing is in seconds, but the Zambia Rally, held this year towards the end of October, used a hybrid system which combined open road competitive sections with timing in seconds, similar, in fact, to the 'selective' sections which were common on British road events years ago.
The organisers of the Zambia Motor Sports Association went a stage further by declaring no target times for competitive sections. Actual times taken were the penalties. In this way they avoided the possibility of sections being given over-generous target times, leading invariably to the frustration of cleaning a section by, say, three minutes and then having all the advantage rubbed off the slate when others clean it by, say, just one minute. Although you will have beaten your rivals by two minutes, you are all within the target time and you all score zero penalty.
Of course, not all sections were competitive. Between them, usually when the route ran along, or even crossed, a main road, a generous allowance was given, allowing ample service time. Even for the competitive sections, a theoretical assessed time was quoted so that the rally did have a timetable, accurate in the case of controls after non-competitive sections and approximate in the case of those after competitive sections.
Good communications are the life blood of any rally, and it is vital nowadays that those at Rally HQ be aware of what is happening out in the field. There are several ways of achieving this, but in Zambia, where the telephone system is subject to frequent disruption, the only reliable way is by radio.
As Zambia is an almost flat country, with no mountains to speak of, one would have expected a system based on VHF signals (line-of-sight) to work well so that there would be no need to use a less distinct HF system (long-distance by means of ionosphere-bouncing). Alas, although a VHF repeater was employed, it did not seem to have been installed in the correct places, leg by leg, and its effectiveness was almost nil. Overall control of the rally was thus impaired and penalties could not be processed until time cards were physically brought to Rally HQ.
However, all this was of secondary significance in Zambia. The important thing was that every single member of the organising team was a dedicated enthusiast to whom nothing was more important than the success of the event. Add to this the equal dedication and ardour of the competitors and you have an event which is on the top line of the interest and keenness scale. For someone accustomed to the cut and thrust of World Championship events, it was a refreshing change to be among people to whom the sporting element was the main thing that mattered.
The route was divided into three legs, spanning Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning, and formed a cloverleaf pattern with both night stops at Lusaka. Servicing was straightforward, for all end-of-section controls could be reached by a tarmac road. All competitive sections were on dirt roads, of course, many of them having very long straights.
Although nearby Zimbabwe has many rally enthusiasts, and South Africa many more, entries for this year's Zambia Rally were precious few, and the starters numbered just 16. Even though there were no less than eight nationalities recorded on the list, all except two crews (from Zimbabwe) were resident in Zambia.
From neighbouring Zimbabwe (Zambia and Zimbabwe were formerly Northern and Southern Rhodesia respectively) came Abe Smit and Les Wild in their heavy Audi 90 quattro, one of only three Group A cars competing in the event. All the others were Group S cars. Smit was the leader of the African Championship, having scored points in the Castrol Rally (South Africa), the Zimbabwe Challenge and Kenya's Equator Rally.
The other crew to make the trip from Harare was Jamie Whyte/Philip Archenoul in a Volkswagen Golf. The leading Zambian contender for the African Championship was veteran driver Satwant Singh, partnered by his wife Leanne in a Group A Volkswagen Golf which had been hastily made ready after their Toyota Celica had been very badly damaged in an earlier event.
The third Group A car was the Toyota Supra of Muna Singh and Malcolm Ross, the driver being the nephew of Satwant, whilst prominent among the pick-up trucks (called bakkies in southern Africa) was the Toyota 4x4 of Yakub Patel and Pappu Saran. A similar pick-up was driven by locally resident Tanzanians Rammy and Tinky Singh.
Azim Ticklay and Ajit Naik were in a venerable Datsun 1601, whilst Mannix Chiwone and Ben Chikasa drove a Toyota Corolla. Steve Harman, boss of event sponsor DHL, drove a diminutive 4wd Daihatsu with Kevin Birch. They had arranged to borrow the car only days before the start.
Fred Milanzi and Frank Mashinta, a very keen local crew eager to learn as much as possible about the sport, were in a Toyota Conquest, whilst Vedad and Vahdad Alavian were in a Mazda Drifter and Colin Gander/Mahesh Patel in a Toyota Pick-up. July Danobo and Ray Thornicroft were in a well-used Datsun.
The first leg began with a short special stage in Lusaka city centre, along streets which had been very firmly closed by the simple means of parking huge trucks across the carriageways. The ardour of the many spectators was hardly dampened at all when, just before the start, the dark clouds burst and a torrential downpour soaked the city. As the watchers unfurled umbrellas, crouched under the road-closing trucks or merely stood there and got very wet, the drivers had to cope with a tarmac surface which had become very slippery indeed, especially as most of them were using chunky tyres.
After this opening prelude, won by Satwant Singh with a time of 2m 48s, just two seconds ahead of the similar Golf of Jamie Whyte and another second ahead of Abe Smit in his 90 quattro, the event headed out eastwards for the two competitive sections scheduled for the remainder of that day.
Whyte opened out an impressive lead on the first one, an amazing feat considering the comparative low power of his VW and the number of very long straights on the section, beating Satwant by no less than 78 seconds. Alas, ARC contender Smit came to a stop on the next one when the engine of his Audi gave up. Observers commented afterwards that he had been pushing the engine to screaming pitch.
Another to retire during the second section of leg one was Raju Saran, whose engine also blew.
At the end of the leg Whyte led by nearly four minutes from Satwant who, in turn, was nearly six minutes ahead of Ticklay. Chiwone was another 37 seconds back.
When the second leg began, most people thought that Satwant would be heading for his fifth African Championship title, but the dark horse was Jamie Whyte. He lost at least two minutes of his lead on the first section of the Sunday, just another second to Satwant on the second, then promptly went out on the third when he went wide, hit some hefty rocks and caused serious damage to the underside of his Golf. He left a large pool of oil on the ground when he left but, not surprisingly, he did not get very far and was soon joining countryman Smit on the way back to Zimbabwe.
Thus Satwant emerged the leader with a substantial lead. Muna Singh had lost considerable time when his turbocharger failed and he had to stop for a replacement, fitted by a service crew led by his father, Guru Singh, Satwant's brother. Another to go out was Rammy Singh whose Toyota Pick-up lost all its gearbox oil after a seal failed.
Whilst the second leg had gone all the way southwards to the area just westward of Lake Kariba, the third, confined to the Monday morning, ventured just east and west of Lusaka. Satwant drove carefully on this day to avoid putting his lead at risk and he eventually emerged the winner, three and a half minutes ahead of Patel in his Toyota Pick-up. The result gave him a single point lead (40 to 39) over Smit in the African Championship, and all now depends on the result of the final round of the series, the Total Tara Rally in Namibia on 17-19 November. In its present form, the Zambia Rally is hardly in World Championship class, but the enthusiasm of its organisers and competitors knows no bounds and it was a stimulating experience to witness how they really enjoy their sport. G P
Zambia Rally – October 22-24 1994
1 Santwant Singh/Leanne Singh (Z) Volkswagen Golf FTi, GpA 9h 28m 59s
2 Yakub Patel (Z)/Pappu Srana (GB) Toyota 4x4 Pick-up, GpS 10h 32m 29s
3 Azim Ticklay/Ajit Naik (Z) Datusn 160J, GpS 10h 48m 08s
4 Mannix Chiwonie.Ben Chikasa (Z) Toyota Corolla, GpS 11h 14m 29s
5 Verdad Alavian.Vahdad Alavian (CDN) Maza Drifter, GpS 11h 21m 47s
6 Fred Milanzi (ZIM)/Frank Mahima (Z) Toyota Conquest, GpS 12h 04m 07s
7 Colin Gander/Mahesh Patel (Z) Toyota 4x4 Pick-up, GpS 12h 36m 25s
8 July Danobo (ZIM)/Ray Thornicroft (Z) Datsum 160J, GpS 12h 42m 02s
9 Muna Singh (EAT)/Malcolm Ross (GB) Toyota Supra, GpA 13h 18m 39s