East African Safari
The present-day East African Safari is a far cry from a bunch of expatriate motoring enthusiasts charging about in the bush as a means of celebrating the Coronation in 1953. Yet that is how this unique event began. It is unique for several reasons; in other countries the competitive meat of rallying lies in the determined urgency of beat-the-second-hand special stages, but although the regulations for the World Rally Championship make particular reference to special stages the Safari continues without them.
The accent in European rallies moved to roads which are closed to all other traffic a long time ago, with the exception of one-night events in Britain and several other countries. Such exceptions are indeed numerous, but not one of them has international status. Indeed, it could be said that the Safari has more in common (at least in style) with a club rally in Wales than any of its co-qualifiers in the major championship of the world.
That is by no means meant as a criticism, for rallying at top level only went “off the road” because it had to; because public roads were becoming too populated for the trouble-free running of rallies which were spread over several days and which were obliged to run by day as well as by night. In East Africa that state of traffic saturation has not yet been reached, so there is no reason whatsoever for the Safari to complicate its running by introducing special stages.
The format is ridiculously simple. A route is chosen of some 5,000 kilometres or so of demanding roads, suitable locations are found for controls which will ensure adherence to the correct route, difficult target times are set for each inter-control distance and a timetable devised for the whole thing based on those inter-control (or section) times. That, in a nutshell, is all it is. But it’s a pity that all other aspects of the organisation were not as easy.
I don’t intend to expound on the complexities of rally organisation. but it’s important to make clear that although Africa is happily without many of the problems which face European rally people, it has many others of which we in Europe have never encountered. The AC de Monaco will hardly make allowances for a road being washed away by a sudden rainstorm (some will say that they make no allowances for snowstorms either); the Royal Scottish Automobile Club would not be expected to cater for emergencies such as buses bogged down across a forest road, a bridge washed away or a manually operated ferry becoming useless owing to a broken hauling rope. These are things which the Automobile Association of East Africa has to expect, and because it has to keep alternatives up its sleeves all the time visiting Europeans have said from time to time that the event’s organisers are far too dictatorial and tend to dismiss the rulings of the FIA on the grounds that “This is Africa. We know how things are here and Paris is a long was off anyway”.
This may have been the attitude of past visitors on occasions, but this year the hardened professionals who were taking part in the rally, experienced men who do not offer praise lightly, agreed that the rally was generally very good and without cause for major criticism. That, coming from rally people who have learned to spot shoddily organised events a mile off, is praise indeed.
It’s not an easy job to lay out a 5,000-kilometre route through the African bush, man it with sufficient controls to ensure that not a single car is able to take a short-cut, supply enough equipment so that arrival times can be radioed or telephoned back to rally headquarters enabling the staff there to keep a check on progress and compute results, keep a constant eye on the weather and the emergency measures kept in reserve to deal with it and generally look after the thousand and one things needed to run a major sporting event over a long Easter weekend which attracts spectators by the tens of thousands.
Add to this the fact that it is also a State occasion, for Kenya’s President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, starts the leading cars and his presence at the ramp demands all manner of arrangements which no RAC Rally, no Alpine Rally and no Thousand Lakes ever had to deal with.
Having said that East Africa has very few of the traffic problems facing Europe, I must now appear to say the contrary by commenting that traffic there is steadily increasing and has just about reached the proportions where a revision is necessary of the system used to determine the Safari’s section times. The sections cannot be timed in a manner similar to the road sections of the RAC Rally, for there would be no contest at all on such an easy journey. They have to be maintained at just beyond (but only just) the bounds of possibility so that ideally the winner should lose about a minute on every section. In fifty-odd sections that would result in on overall final penalty of just under an hour. But this year the winner lost well over six hours, which suggests that somewhere or other the Safari is being made needlessly difficult.
The event has become so popular that spectators drive out from the towns in convoys to set up family picnics in the bush to watch the cars go by. They park at any convenient spot and are generally joined by crowds of interested tribesmen. Buses lumber along the rally route (which is not closed to other traffic), cyclists weave and dodge from side to side, bush dwellers are slow to jump onto the grass from the ant-free murram of the road and animals frequently leap in front of cars as if intent on destroying themselves and as many lamps, windscreens and radiators as they can at the same time. It’s not an easy job to drive against an impossibly fast clock in such conditions, and perhaps the time has come to slow the event down in areas where congestion can be expected.
In most European events a competitor whose total lateness reaches one hour is excluded. In East Africa a single rainstorm can hold someone up for as long as that, so maximum permitted lateness periods of up to eight hours in one leg have to be provided in order to ensure having any finishers at all.
How much easier it would be if the time schedules were relaxed a little so as to reduce the speeds which were necessary on tarmac roads and in village areas, and the maximum permitted lateness reduced accordingly. One would lose less time, but if one lost too much of it one would be excluded from the rally just as quickly. In effect, the contest would not be made any easier, for the winner is still the winner whether his margin be one minute or several hundred and one.
The weather always plays an important part in the East African Safari, for the coming of the rains can necessitate all manner of changes in organisation, team administration, deployment of service support and even driver tactics. This year the late Easter threatened to create a “Wet Safari” but the rains didn’t come as quickly as they were expected and the event was largely dry and dusty. There were wet sections, of course, and these led to penalty differences which eventually had a bearing on the result.
The competing teams this year included the Safari regulars, Peugeot, Datsun and Ford, joined by a pair of Porsche Carrera RSs representing the only factory entry by the Stuttgart team during the year. The Ford team surged forward from the start, and when Roger Clark built up a lead of over half an hour by the mid-way stop it was thought that last year’s Escort victory by a non-resident crew would be repeated. Alas a steering fault cost all of forty minutes and a broken exhaust manifold caused hot gases to melt the alternator diodes and their wiring. Soon after, Timo Makinen rolled, leaving just Mikkola with a chance, for Vic Preston had slowed with a blown cylinder head gasket and Peter Shiyukah, the team’s African driver, had rolled.
The Porsches suffered suspension damper breakages which slowed them considerably, particularly when the vibration began causing gear selectors to jam. But the two cars retired for different reasons, Zasada when he rolled and Waldegard when a broken oil union caused the engine to seize. The Peugeot 504s were as reliable as ever, although their poor power/weight ratio made them no match for the more agile cars of the teams.
In the later stages, Mikkola (Escort), Aaltonen (240Z) and Källström (1800SSS) were struggling very hard for the lead, for they were bunched at the head of the field and any one ol them could win. Alas, Mikkola and Aaltonen fought too hard; the latter rolled and the former broke his steering against a rock. When Källström lost time after struggling in some mud the local crew Shekhar Mehta and Lofty Drew managed to get ahead to beat them to the finish by a single minute. A scrutineering penalty of one minute for a non-functioning headlamp set their scores equal, but the principle of “furthest cleanest” from the start (in terms of minutes lost, not absence of body dirt!) was applied and on this the decision went to Mehta.
It must be many a long year since a tie was recorded in a major international rally, but it should be realised that when penalties are recorded only to the nearest minute, not in seconds as in other events, the chances of a dead heat are higher. In some respects it was not a wholly satisfactory result, but it was Mehta who actually got in best on time so the tie-decider only served to confirm matters. In any event, a rally such as the Safari should be won on the road in good, honest, clean competition, and not in the scrutineers’ bay where a good bulb can score over a blown one.
We’ve said many times before that the Safari needs only a few small streamlining operations, and we’ll say it again now. A major change of style would destroy its character, and for as long as Africa can cope with open-road rallying at competitive speeds it should remain as it is. In Europe things are conducted according to conditions. In Africa the same applies, but the conditions are vastly different and who on earth would want to interfere with the make-up of the last of the world’s great road rallies? – G.P.
1st: C. Mehta/L. Drews (Datsun 240Z) ….. 406 min.
2nd: H. Källström/C. Billstam (Datsun 1800 SSS) ….. 406 min.
3rd: O. Anderson/J. Todt (Peugeot 504 Inj.) ….. 527 min.
4th: T. Fall/M.Wood (Datsun 1800 SSS) ….. 554 min.
5th: P. Huth/J. McConnell (Peugeot 504 Inj.) ….. 727 min.
6th: H. Lionett/P. Hechle (Peugeot 504 Inj.) ….. 790 min.
7th: Sawant S./J. Mitchell (Mitsubishi Colt) ….. 843 min.
8th: R. Ulyate/I. Smith (Fiat 125S) ….. 874 min.
9th: M. Kirkland/B. Field (Datsun 1600 SSS) ….. 877 min.
10th: J. Noon/R. Barnard (Datsun 1600 SSS) ….. 905 min.
11th: Joginder S./T. Samuels (Mitsubishi Colt) ….. 976 min.
12th: Z. Remtulla/N. Jivani (Datsun 1600 SSS) ….. 1,077 min.
13th: P. Neylan/L. Reynolds (Mazda Rotary RX2) ….. 1,138 min.
14th: V. Preston Jnr./B. Smith (Ford Escort RS) ….. 1,148 min.
15th: B. Barton/C. Fryer (Datsun 180B) ….. 1,200 min.
16th: Davinder S./D. Doig (Mitsubishi Colt) ….. 1,212 min.
17th: E. Walker/A. Levitan (Datsun 1600 SSS) ….. 1,219 min.
18th: J. Rose/S. Rose (Datsun 1600 SSS) ….. 1,252 min.
89 starters – 18 finishers