East African Safari

Easter in Kenya means Safari-time. The East African Safari Rally; the name itself chills spines as you imagine man and machine pitting skills against the ragged car-eating terrains of Tanzania and Kenya or the precipitous escarpments of the mighty mountain Kilimanjaro. All very romantic really, but in fact the myths that surround this great event are slowly being unravelled. To sum it up, the one real aspect that makes this event so memorable is that it is the only real road-race left. Nothing since the Liége has been able to match the Safari for its abundance of un-made roads and unlimited high-speeds. However, the truly romantic side of it, the image that Joe Public has can be shattered quite easily when you realise that it is only a rally; for a start it can be recced! Crews spend weeks going round the route making accurate distance notes or even pace notes of the tighter sections, so for one thing the idea that local knowledge is all-important can be dispensed with as far as route-finding goes. Not to take the glory from the locals for indeed they score heavily in knowing how to conserve a car in the rough, and they score even more when its wet for murram isn’t just murram – there are several types of it, and the deceptive red soil takes getting used to.

Which brings us to another point. The last four years have seen finishers lists read 9, 16, 21, and 7, but this year there were, due to the dry conditions, 49 finishers. An early Easter as this year means a dusty run instead of the deluged events of the past four years. The mud is the biggest single eliminator, for the constant effort of pushing and digging one’s own car out, let alone the numerous cars bogged down in front, invariably accounts for many retirements through sheer physical exhaustion. Two other alterations, by popular request from the manufacturers supporting this event, were the seeding of the entry list and admission of Group 2 cars. So with more power – which always makes fast driving that bit less strenuous – and with people in their correct order a bigger finishers list was to be expected. One of the claims of the Kenyans is that no “visitor” has won the Safari (you can’t say “European” for the Kenyans are still considered Europeans and all others apart from locals are “visitors”). This isn’t completely surprising for the percentage of visitors to locals is pretty low, and of course the percentage of absolute top visiting drivers is even lower still, Söderstrom and Aaltonen were perhaps the two top “visitors.” The former very nearly did win, while the latter had a slightly unsuitable car. Which quite neatly brings us to the next point, the cars. Or more important still, the works entries.

After the event several hundreds of words were written about it and quite a few of those hundreds were devoted to a quiet dig or back-handed sneer at the attempts of the Ford Motor Company. Something which one finds difficulty in agreeing with. It’s quite easy to sit back and smirkingly say “Fords bought Le Mans” and then follow this up by saying that they’re trying to buy the Safari as well by taking a rumoured budget of £30,000 and a six-pronged attack. But to my way of thinking any manufacturer who is prepared to compete in the public eye, and in the most testing game, with a new car at that should be applauded whatever the result. Top manufacturers team, five out of the six cars entered finished (83 1/2%), four of these in the top seven and second and third overall. Whose lion? The cars Ford used out there were the new ’67 shape Cortina GTs. At first people like Bengt Söderstrom had bewailed the fact that they couldn’t have an established Lotus Cortina, but after the event, even after practise, the chubby Swede had changed his opinion, and certainly from the way that the GTs went and held together it is apparent that Fords have got themselves a winner. Even Boreham has been pleasantly surprised by the inbuilt strength of their new cars. When the F.2 Cosworth 4-valve head and either Lucas or Tecalemit fuel-injection get going we should see some sparks fly in the racing field, and for the rallyist this should be the cheapest way of obtaining really competitive motoring. Many of last year’s competition developed parts are standard on the new Lotus. The Lotus-engined version is now homologated in Group 2 and although only a few official appearances will be made this year 1968 should see More Cortina (excuse pun). Apart from the Boreham contingent the only British support out there was the lone BMC Cooper S of Rauno Aaltonen – with Stuart Turner making “positively his last appearance.” A big car is better suited to the rough than a small-wheeled vehicle quite obviously and since BMC are going to develop the 1800 range we might even see a team of the ADO 15s out there next year, and there’s no reason why the strong f.w.d. cars shouldn’t be successful. One wishes that some of our other manufacturers would take a little more interest; for example Triumph 2000s would do well, and in fact the E.A. ,Leyland Group supported car of Viscount Mandeville finished ninth overall, only to be dropped three places for a speeding offence. Similarly there was only one official Volvo, the 122S of the dusky and cheerful Joginder Singh (outright winner in 1965); he finished fourth this time. Local dealers put in a team of VW 1600s and a team of Datsun 2000s, while there was one mis-prepared Lancia Fulvia for Bettoja, but quite obviously the top drivers were shared amongst Peugeot and Ford. On the Peugeot side they had the eventual winner Bertie Shankland, accompanied as last year by Chris Rothwell, while teammate “Nick” Nowicki showed flashes of inspired driving. The fuel injection 404 “Pugs” are incredibly strong cars and although lacking in the acceleration department they will forge effortlessly on in the high-speed brackets for hours on end. However, to harp on a point, the Peugeots are a French entry – dealer network entered – while Fords are a British concern (although American controlled) and their spending the so called vast quantities on promoting a British product in an important export field. One shouldn’t “knock the rock” (to quote someone!).

The Cortinas were well paced throughout the event, all drivers being told to take things steadily. Söderstrom, as always with Gunnar Palm next to him, set the pace out in front, aided undoubtedly by having a dust-free road. He calmly dominated the event for the complete Southern Loop. His fine run, with an unmarked car, came to a tragic end when a distance mix-up over two recently dug drainage culverts caused him to crash spectacularly into the first one. Shankland (trailing by eight minutes) then assumed the lead. However, Jack Simonian, previous co-driver to Henry Taylor on the 1964 trip, was told to speed up and just on one section he pulled ten minutes back and then, in the lead, had the misfortune at 90 m.p.h. to hit a buck impala which had chosen to block a main road. After de-ditching he finished sixth. Shankland then was back in the lead, and although Vic Preston and Peter Hughes both increased pace the opportunity to catch the Peugeot had gone. Therefore both Cortinas were removed from the lead by virtue of the chancy business of running first on the road. Talking of chancy business the natives in recent years have been getting more restless, and now consider it good sport to throw rocks and other sundry debris at the speeding cars. Several drivers were hurt, one quite severely. It’s not as if the natives were plain marauding savages, but the sad result is that civilisation tends to bring with it decadence expressed in these outbreaks of hooliganism.

Interestingly all the GTs suffered from generator troubles just as the pre-Lotus cars did. Perhaps it was the smoothness of the twincam engines which stopped the early GT breakdowns; however, troubles they had, and all of a varying nature. One of the major sufferers was Roger Clark. Teamed with Ford Belgium driver Gilbert Staepelaere they made a formidable pair and got on famously together. It is unlikely though that we’ll see them together much more since Staepelaere is interested in furthering his own career as a driver. Lucien Bianchi and Henri Greder were another top crew but they never really got going, and slowed even more after bending the rear axle casing in an excursion. John Sprinzel in the Weekend-Telegraph sponsored GT Cortina (prepared in three days out there by Ford mechanics) expired with a disintegrated blanking plug after he’d endured eighteen hours’ driving with a rock-made eye-level hole in his windscreen. The most noteworthy Datsun 2000, that of John Aird went very strongly and he had hammered it to third place at halfway but the gearbox then disintegrated. Very evidently, other manufacturers are taking more interest in rallies, especially (take note!) the Japs in rewarding markets like East Africa.

The diminutive Cooper S of Aaltonen/Liddon had a sad trip. Beautifully (as is usual with Abingdon products) and very thoughtfully prepared the 1293S, using a 510 cam instead of the usual 648 “hot” cam and it lower compression head, lasted only a few hours before dust collected in the air cleaner, fell through into the carbs, blocked the jets thus weakening the mixture and so caused the overheating which finally “cooked” the engine solid. It would have been better perhaps if a Mini had been used on the recce instead of a “barge”! Anyway it’s all over for another year, but on the subject of B.M.C…. The Gallaher-sponsored Circuit of Ireland Rally was won for the fifth time by B.M.C., the driver being Paddy Hopkirk, it also being his fifth win. Accompanied by Terry Harryman (on his third win) the “local boyo” had a steady and unexerted run. Hot competition was non-existent although two ex-works Minis were present and one ex-works Lotus-Cortina. The latter was in the hands of Welshman Malcolm Gibbs, being given a chance this year by Henry Taylor, who incidentally has formulated the idea of aiding coming men in countries afar as well as at home. This will take the form of Boreham-prepared cars, equipment and know-how being supplied to the national sales organisations of Ford dealers in Europe so that people like Norwegian champion Trond Schea can be given a run in the most competitive machinery.

Returning to the first-named comingman, he demolished the car along with a dry-stone wall, admittedly while lying third. Adrian Boyd took second place in the works 1293S which he’s just bought. A creditable drive, for during the last few years he’s hardly stepped in a Mini, always being Cortina mounted. Another very creditable drive was that of Roy Fidler, who, with your admiring scribe alongside, took fifth overall and his class in the Triumph 2000. Fidler is the only person who manages to keep a spark of interest alive in Triumph for having won the R.A.C. Rally Championship last year they have promised him a Group 2 car (pity it’s not one of the superb triple-Weber Group 3 cars) for ten events this year. Charlie Gunn (Lotus Cortina) and the McCartney brothers Ronnie and Des, both in Cooper Ss, were the other quick people around on this well-organised 1,500-mile tour of fifty special stages. If only it were nearer the continent it would be sure of attracting better entries, which an event with stages over closed, tarmaced public roads certainly deserves. “Better entries” leads-back to the tail end of March when the fourth round of the European Rallies Championship was held. This was the West German Rally, or the Stuttgart-Solitude, Lyons-Charbonnieres to give it its full name. Porsche 911Ss made everyone else look to their tuning departments as four of them headed by works drivers Vic Elford/David Stone, Hanrioud/Raray romped home in the first four places. Interesting to note, former Steyr-Puch exponent Sobieslaw Zasada has acquired one, private owned although works prepared, and he came third. If Zasada competes in all the Iron Curtain events he could well be Group 3 champ this year, he is of course the current reigning Group 2 champion. Two notable British results were in the form of Taylor’s other protégé Tony Chappell, with your truly, coming first in class, while Rootes’ honour was upheld by that quick young Swiss chap Patrick Lier in a Rally Imp – eighth overall. The Porsche landslide in this tough and partly snowbound miniature Alpine rally is an indication of things to come, but anyway with the F.I.A. being concerned about 2+2 cars we should see 911s stay in Group 3 in 1968, where they belong, rather than dominate the other two Groups as well, as has been hoped for this year. With four rounds of the championship past it’s clear that Porsche will dominate Group 3, led perhaps by Elford, who incidentally is heading the very lucrative Shell-Berre challenge at the moment, while Group 2 is wide open although French Renault driver Jean Francois Piot has a two-point lead at 18 (Flowers win) over Söderstrom (Swedish win). Group 1 is being contested be the Citroen DS21 Is (Ogier leads with 29 points), Genta in is Lancia Fulvia (20 points, and another 2+2 car that will have to revert to Group 3 next year) and the Opel Rekord 1900 of current Group 1 champ Lillebror Nasenius. – A.E.A.K.