Wet weather on a Safari Rally is seldom welcomed by the competitors, whose vocabulary will quickly include such phrases as ‘mud holes’, ‘black cotton’ and ‘flash floods’. The winner of the last really wet Safari, the one held in 1977, was Björn Waldegård and so it was no surprise to find him winning the Kenya Airways East African Safari Classic Rally when the weather turned nasty in November.
Winning it in a Porsche 911 also fulfilled some unfinished business from the ’70s when Waldegård had tried several times to claim the Safari for the Porsche factory and so nearly succeeded. Since then, he has won the Safari three times with Toyotas, and the Safari Classic in 2007 in a Ford Escort. But to win with a 911 was something special. On the two occasions Waldegård has won the Safari Classic it’s been a family affair with his son, Mathias, guiding him to victory.
It didn’t pour solidly throughout the nine days and more than 4000km (2500 miles) of the Safari Classic, but the rain was always around and its effect was to create mud holes and stretches of the infamous black cotton that is worse to drive on than ice. The 46 cars that started the rally in Mombasa were the epitome of the preparer’s art with their shining coachwork, but at the finish, after 1740km (1080m) of competitive sections, they all looked much the worse for wear and universally brown. Even Waldegård hadn’t escaped, for he had lost the lead on the fifth competitive day when his Tuthillprepared Porsche slid sideways into a truck that was occupying more than half a particular mud hole.
From the start 2009 winner Ian Duncan (Ford Capri 3.0) took the lead, but within two sections Waldegård overtook him, while another former World Rally Champion, Stig Blomqvist, saw his chances knocked back when he broke the axle on his Ford Escort RS1800. There was a strong Porsche entry and at the end of the first day seven of the German cars were in the top 10. Waldegård’s most serious challenger was Grégoire de Mévius in a Kronos 911 who, by the end of day two, lay just three seconds behind the leader. One quick time the next morning and de Mévius was ahead, but then his engine stopped on the third section and he lost six minutes. Fellow Belgian Gérard Marcy was keeping his Porsche in third place despite a lack of top-end power, while Duncan broke some wheel studs and dropped back to 22nd overall.
The conditions did not favour the low starting numbers since once a car was stuck in a flood, a ditch or a mud hole, then others tended to suffer the same fate. This was the case for Steve Perez in his Datsun 260Z, but, as with many others, he found that mechanical problems were also costing time, in his case with a misfire and broken rear control arm. When Waldegård hit his truck and lost 40 minutes of road time repairing the Porsche’s rollcage, it was Geoff Bell (Datsun 260Z) who took the lead. Waldegård chased the Datsun relentlessly over the next two days, and got back in front despite a puncture with one day left. Also in a frantic race to catch up was Blomqvist, who set several fastest times on competitive sections to finish third, just ahead of Marcy’s BM-Autosport Porsche.
The first half of the rally had been enlivened by the presence of extreme sports star Travis Pastrana, who drove a Tuthill Porsche navigated by Fabrizia Pons. Though a wet Safari was very different to his normal experiences, the American set two fastest times and was sixth at the end of day two before losing road time with brake problems. Although only able to stay for four days, Pastrana said: This rally is absolutely epic – one of the best experiences of my life.”