East African Safari
As technical knowledge increases year by year, and rockets become faster, eggs quicker to boil, labour-saving devices more plentiful, traffic heavier and prices higher, so our lives are said to be getting easier. But although the advance of civilisation may, on the face of it, signify an improvement in almost everything, to the rallying enthusiasts of the world (and to climbers, aviators, conservationists and many others) it represents a threat to the activity which gives them greatest pleasure.
One of the biggest attractions of the sport of rallying is the element of the unknown which it possesses. That, and the appeal to a motoring sense of fun and adventure, were the reasons for its evolvement in the first place, when a number of motoring sportsmen decided that they wanted something more than the precision and exactitude of a simple race around a circuit or even from A to B.
Over the years many rallies have continued to provide the adventure which, we are glad to say, is still considered ln essential part of the best events. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide that adventure, not only because new stamping grounds are becoming harder to find between the tentacles of civilisation or because of a growing tendency among legislators to regard motor cars as things which should not be used for sporting purposes, but also because the sport’s own administrators are, whether unwittingly or otherwise, seemingly endeavouring to remove from rallying that essential spark which comes from never knowing exactly what to find ahead. It’s not so very long ago that it was perfectly in order to send a high-speed convoy of rally cars across Europe and back again; the old Liege rallies, to Rome and to Sofia, used to do just that, and the Coupe des Alpes invariably ran its selectifs on alpine roads which were open to normal traffic. But these are now things of the past and rallying in the more populated parts of the world has to rely on special stages for its competition, using roads closed to all traffic except the competing cars.
The use of special stages provides an added touch of excitement, particularly in the case of such events as the RAC Rally (which forbids practice), undoubtedly the most popular rally in the world today. But the tendency nowadays is to make everything except the special stages relaxed and easy; indeed, organisers are even going as far as to make sure that competitors will not have to spend more than one night at a time out of bed. There are many who like the sort of event which is on the road by day and in bed at night, but there are plenty of others who hanker after the sort of cornpetition which taxes physical stamina as well as driving skill.
Whilst the areas in which it is possible to run endurance rallies are becoming less plentiful, those events which still run to the old formula should be preserved and protected for as long as it is humanly possible. The continent of Africa is a superb place for such rallies; in Morocco the big event of the year does have special stages, but they are often all of 200 kilometres long, are incredibly rough in parts and are run in such climatic conditions that stamina and endurance (and vehicle reliability, of course) pay more dividends than sprint ability.
And that brings us to the grand daddy of all today’s endurance rallies, the East African Safari. Since its inception in 1953 it has remained a road event, shunning special stages and sticking to the old, simple formula of dividing the route by straightforward time controls and timing everything to the nearest minute. There are many critics of such a style, but those critics cannot realise that there is no possible way of closing a bush track and keeping it free of all moving things except rally cars. It is better to have a road open to everything than have one said to be closed but along which one can still encounter animals, washaways, broken down trucks and the occasional wandering bus. In East Africa the rally driver can never rely on the road being exactly as it was when he practised and made his notes, and since he must therefore keep something in reserve for the unexpected there is no additional hardship in keeping the same thing in reserve for whatever other traffic there may be.
Some four years ago the CSI announced that the East African Safari would be a qualifier in what was then the International Rally Championship for Makes. They did this without consulting the rally organisers. In the meantime, common organising conditions for World Championship events have been established, and when two CSI inspectors visited the 1974 Safari the organisers got the impression that they were being subjected to some sort of “Big Brother” pressure to conform or lose championship status. A certain degree of standardisation is a good thing, but East African rallying has so many peculiarities that there are many ways in which the Safari cannot possibly conform. The organisers must, for instance, reserve the right to change the route at short notice in order to bypass blockages caused by sudden rain, and to increase the maximum permitted lateness if the going becomes dangerously slow due to mud or flood.
These reservations are not exactly in accordance with the general prescriptions for World Championship qualifiers and we feel that the CSI is not making sufficient allowance for various local conditions when making these sweeping conditions. If they become too dogmatic, then the AA of East Africa will surely say “You keep your championship the way you want it and we’ll keep our Safari the way we want it”. If that happens it will not affect the running of the Safari very much, for it is an event which can stand on its own feet without relying on championship status to attract entries, but it would be a sad happening for the World Championship which will be less colourful indeed without the classic African event. This year the entries numbered nearly a hundred, its customary level, and the factories represented other than by totally private entrants were Peugeot, Lancia, Fiat, Datsun, Alpine, Renault, Polski-Fiat, Porsche and, by just one car, Ford. Of that lot, only Fiat and perhaps Lancia can be said to be seriously in pursuit of World Championship points; the others were there simply because the Safari generates its own international publicity without the help of any series to which it belongs, adding a little more weight to our earlier argument.
Initially an ambitious route had been planned for the event, taking in territory in the desert regions of Kenya’s Northern Frontier District to compensate for the cutting of the customary loops in Tanzania and Uganda. The Uganda sections were dropped because of the problems in that country and the Tanzanian ones because the authorities of that country required the event to start and finish at Dar es Salaam if it were to enter Tanzania at all.
Absolutely freak weather less than two weeks before the start caused the abandonment of the two loops in the far north, one through the Chalbi Desert to the East of Lake Rudolf and the other between that lake and the Uganda border. There was considerable difficulty during competitors’ practice sessions, many getting stuck in mud and others having to wait up to a day or more until torrential rivers subsided.
Alternative routes were published to avoid the worst hit areas, but during the rally itself it was the classic favourite from Embu to Meru around the eastern foothills of Mount Kenya which gave the greatest trouble when floods washed away the road foundation and brought slurry down from the hills. The road is used year after year, but this was the first time that it had been in such muddy condition. It caused such a long delay that the organisers, faced also with a communications failure caused by floods bringing down telephone lines and lightning interfering with radio, decided to cancel the penalties on the sections concerned and on the one following it. This decision was controversial, competitors who got through without undue delay before the mud got to its worst being the main complainants.
The situation was much the same as that which caused the incredible fuss during the 1973 Monte Carlo Rally when a blockage of the Burzet special stage delayed the majority of the competitors so much that they were excluded. In that case the organisers were criticised for not cancelling the stage, and the competitors who got through before the blockage were just as critical—the opposite view to that taken by the front runners in the Safari. Mud and snow may be a different colour and have different temperatures, but their effects are the same. The only material difference between the situations was the 30 minutes maximum lateness in the Monte and the 12 hours (or even more) in the Safari.
Having disposed of the inevitable controversial matters, now to the rally itself. Outright winners were Joginder Singh (the same man who won with an old Volvo PV544 in 1965) and David Doig in a 1.6-litre Mitsubishi Lancer. The car was built in Joginder’s own Nairobi workshop, using parts supplied by the factory in Japan. Mitsubishi doesn’t have its own rally team, at least, not one which makes sorties across the world like Datsun and Toyota, but whether the East African success will change that remains to be seen. The Peugeot team originally consisted of six 504s, but one entry was withdrawn after the death of Achim Warmbold’s wife when the car in which they, were out on a game-watching trip hit a buffalo and overturned. Three of the remaining cars were driven by Andersson, Mikkola and Makinen, but all three retired after failures of their engine cam followers.
Three works Porsches were “rented” for the rally, along with factory mechanics, two by Chipstead of Kensington for Bill Fritschy and Bjorn Waldegarcl and the other by Edgar Herrmann for himself. Two retired, but Waldegard drove to what seemed certain to be outright victory until rear suspension collapse for the second time caused such a delay that he dropped to second place.
The Alpine-Renault challenge consisted of two Alpine Berlinettes and two Renault R17s, but they succumbed to electrical problems, suspension failure (on the Alpines) and overheating caused by mud blocking the radiators. The team also underestimated fuel requirements, not realising that tremendous wheelspin in deep mud greatly increases petrol consumption. The single works Ford Escort RS was sent to Kenya for Vic Preston Jnr., his father, a Safari veteran, having mounted a full scale service support network the equal of any provided by a factory team. Alas, one chunk of delay came when the engine got a wetting and stopped right in the middle of a mud hole and another when the sump pan seams opened up.
Flush with she Portuguese success, the Fiat team brought three Abarth 124s, but all three had their clutches give out. The thick mud of the first leg was hard on these components and many crews afterwards had them changed as a precaution. The Fiats did not, and the inevitable happened. The two cars driven by Barbasio and Paganelli failed to get up the very rough Chesoi Escarpment and retired, but the car driven by local men Ulyate and Smith managed it and even got to the finish. Without a clutch, Ulyate was choosing sandy ground whenever he was obliged to stop, thus providing himself with a natural “clutch” between tyres and loose ground each time he rammed home the gear lever.
Sandro Munari and Lofty Drews, Italian and Kenyan respectively, drove very well indeed in their Lancia Fulvia to finish third, whilst team-mates Shekhar Mehta and Mike Doughty, former Datsun men, finished eleventh. A pair of Datsun 260Z, appearing for the first time with disc brakes on the rear wheels as well as the front, were sent from Japan to be entered by their drivers, Harry Kallstrom (Sweden) and Zully Remtulla (Tanzania). They were embarrassingly powerful and heavy in the mud, but they nevertheless took fourth and fifth places.
Of the 99 starters there were only 16 finishers, the tough going being made even tougher by the long delays in each of the three legs eating their way into the rest periods despite a reshuffling of the timetable by the organisers. Rosemary Smith and Pauline Gullick, running at the back of the field in their Datsun 1800SSS, only had an hour’s break at each of the two halts, which must have turned the 1974 Safari into the most fatiguing event they have ever tackled. It is to their credit that they did it, won the ladies’ prize and looked far fresher at the end than any of the male competitors.
Whatever controversy might have arisen, and however many varying opinions put forward, the East African Safari remained what it has always been; not just a competition between cars and their drivers but a struggle with Mother Nature herself with such a strong element of African adventure that the event will always stand out among all others. It will be a very sad day indeed if ever the Safari becomes no more than a copy of European rallies.—G.P.