No more shots in the dark?



Is yet more of the Safari Rally’s adventuresome spirit about to be diluted?
That’s certainly the way it looks . . .

Very little in the way of information concerning the 1994 Safari Rally has been coming our way from Kenya — nothing, in fact, of an official nature. However, we do understand that the rally has the same local sponsors as in 1993 (Trust Bank and Shell, for instance) though nothing, it seems, from outside the country.

The organisers still have no permanent general manager, though we understand that erstwhile manager (and former winning co-driver) Mike Doughty is back in Nairobi after having spent some time at Thika.

The organising committee remains largely as before, though George Mwaie has replaced Nick Nganga as its chairman.

The most significant piece of information we have concerns the route, which this year will totally shun the hours of darkness, even avoiding pre-dawn and after-dusk competitive sections. Indeed, the schedule has the smack of having been prepared by a team manager determined to keep his car-following helicopters flying all the time the rally is on the road.

Much as I approve of helicopters in general, their use in rally servicing is something which I would like to see forbidden. They are already banned from special stages, but since the Safari has no special stages the ban does not apply, and it has become quite common in Kenya for competing works cars each to have their attendant helicopter carrying mechanics and spare parts, ready to descend whenever required and even passing on instant ‘hazard notes’ from the air.

We recall one instance when a works crew even called in its helicopter crew to change a wheel after a puncture!

Most World Championship rallies have become shorter since a three-day maximum was declared by Paris, although there are exceptions such as the Monte-Carlo Rally, the RAC and the Safari. The latter has always been a five-day affair, starting on the Thursday and finishing on Easter Monday. This year it is being cut by a day and will finish on the Sunday.

Long runs through the bush have also been eliminated, and this year it will remain comparatively close to Nairobi, where two of the three night stops will be located. The third will be at Eldoret.

The first leg, starting at 10.30, will depart Nairobi towards Ngong, to the west of the city, then cross the tarmac Namanga Road near Kajiado and emerge on the main Mombasa Road at Sultan Hamud. It will be back in Nairobi by 18.15, via Thika.

The second leg, starting at 7.00, will again go via Kajiado, but then it will press further down the Mombasa Road to have competitive sections in the Taita Hills and the sisal and bush areas around Mwatate. The first car will be due back in Nairobi at 17.40.

On the third day, the route will again be via Ngong, but this time turning northwards via Gilgil, Elmenteita and Seyabei to Narok. It will then go via Rongain and Eldama Ravine to a night stop at Eldoret.

Finally, the fourth day will take competitors through Loruk and Tangulbei to skirt to the south of Lake Baringo. Then come more sections on the Mau Narok Escarpment, which forms the western edge of the Great Rift Valley, before a two-hour regrouping stop at the Lake Naivasha Hotel from which the survivors will take the main road back to Nairobi, the first car scheduled to finish at the Kenyatta Conference Centre at 16.30. The total distance is 2,100 miles, just over two thirds of which are said to be competitive.

It is certainly the most compact route that we have seen for the Safari, but whether it will live up to its pledge of keeping servicing costs to a minimum remains to be seen. On the face of it, it could be covered by fewer service cars than in the past, but when works teams put as many helicopters into the air as they have competing cars on the ground, one wonders what effect any reduction in the number of service cars will have on the overall budget. On the other hand, private entrants will no doubt find that they will be able to plan for greater overall coverage by no more service vehicles than they have used in the past.

We appreciate the need to make the event less expensive, especially for privateers, but do competitors really want a near-cloverleaf Safari which never ventures more than half a day’s drive from Nairobi?

We wonder. G P