The old stars couldn’t stop Rob Collinge from taking his second East African Safari Classic win. By Franca Davenport
“It may have been two days shorter, but this was a longer, harder road to victory than in 2003,” was how Rob Collinge summed up his second win on the East African Safari Classic. In the same car, now re-engineered as a Datsun 260Z, and accompanied by his usual co-driver, Anton Levitan, the Kenya-based driver took control of the rally on its third day when early leader Stig Blomqvist ran into problems with his Ford Escort RS1600. Collinge held the lead for the rest of the rally, despite problems of his own nearing the end. The entry list included three ex-World Rally Champions: Blomqvist, Bjorn Waldegard and Juha Kankkunen.
Of the three Blomqvist was reckoned to be the most likely to challenge the local experts, thanks to a David Sutton-prepared Mkl Escort, with team-mate and chief tester Ian Duncan, a Safari winner from the past, in the sister Ford. The ceremonial start was under the crossed tusks in downtown Mombasa before the proper rallying started the next morning with a run south into Tanzania. Fast stages between the Usumbara Mountains and the Indian Ocean saw Blomqvist and his Venezuelan co-driver, Ana Goni, going into an immediate lead from Collinge, who suffered a puncture. Behind them Kankkunen had intermittent fuel-pump problems in his Datsun 240Z, losing three quarters of an hour and dropping to 34th overall, while Waldegard, sharing the 911 of David Kavanagh, lost time with loose electrical relays.
After a night halt in Dar-esSalaam, the event headed back north and ran through the Usumbaras before arriving at Arusha under Mount Kilimanjaro. Collinge closed the gap to Blomqvist to a mere 40secs, but the other Sutton Escort came under a different kind of pressure. According to Duncan: “We trashed it into a ditch on the last section. It rolled and I don’t think it’s repairable.”
The third day and the last section in Tanzania saw Blomqvist in double trouble with firstly a puncture and a broken jack and then getting stuck in sand at the bottom of a dry river bed. He lost nearly half an hour in total, which dropped him back to fourth. Kankkunen was now winning stages and had worked his way back up to 14th as the rally checked in at Nairobi. Sadly he was to retire two days later when his co-driver Juha Repo fell ill. He was rushed to hospital where a minor brain tumour was diagnosed. Even the leader had worries, with an inlet valve losing its spring and the car running on only five cylinders — a problem that continued right through the penultimate day. “Just how the whole lot doesn’t drop down and smash the piston is a mystery to us. We just held it up with a piece of wire,” said Collinge.
Hold it did until a replacement could be fitted before the last day of rallying back down to Mombasa. Blomqvist was back in second place ahead of the Porsches of Frederic Dor and John Lloyd, but he admitted to not feeling very well and was in any case sceptical about pulling back 24mins on the flying Datsun now it was on six cylinders. As it was, Blomqvist had a close call when he broke his steering rack, but all 30 finishers were delighted to have made it and to have taken part in such a fabulous event. As WRC Subaru team manager Paul Howarth so aptly put it: “This is rallying: long stages, minimum service and lots of camaraderie.”