EAST AFRICAN SAFARI
IT WAS never really doubted that one day a Datsun would win the East African Safari Rally. For several years the Japanese team has put all its efforts into this tough event, only tackling the odd European rally when available time happened to coincide with the inclination.
During those years Datsuns have proved to be strong and reliable, qualities which are vital on the Safari, but not quite fast enough yet to be a serious threat to the more powerful machinery currently rallying in Europe. Last year they were able to win the Manufacturers’ Team Prize in Britain’s RAC Rally and they have done this in the past in Africa.
Rallying in Africa is fast, rough and highly unpredictable. It is not possible for the organisers to fix a route and stick to it no matter what happens. A hot, sunny morning can give way to an afternoon of torrential thunderstorms which, at best, can turn a dirt road into a ribbon of sticky mud or, at worst, can wash it away altogether.
For this reason the organisers have to keep pre-surveyed alternative routes ready to be used at short notice and they have to take the precaution of phrasing their regulations in such a way that maximum permitted lateness can be extended at any time. Lateness is always penalised, of course, but there is always a maximum time beyond which the penalty of exclusion is applied. In Europe, this maximum is frequently 30 minutes, but on the Safari it can be as high as 14 hours. This year it went up to 16 1/2 hours at one stage. These variables introduced by the organisers to combat natural hazards have given rise to a feeling that the Safari is no more than a game of chance. This is certainly not the case. It is a difficult, strenuous rally which only the strongest survive.
For the first time, the Safari was this year a qualifying event in the International Rally Championship for Constructors. As such it should have attracted a fair proportion of the European rally circus, but some of them had their sights on the World Cup Rally and the kudos of possible success on the long road to Mexico. Consequently the only European teams to take part in the 1970 Safari were Lancia and Ford of Germany, with a lone works Porsche entered privately by Sobieslaw Zasada.
There was a strong team of Datsuns, four 1600SSS saloons being driven by local men. A fifth had been entered for a Japanese crew, but one of them was sadly killed in practice and no other crew was nominated. It was this accident which caused the Japanese to end their team’s practice sorties before some of the crews had completed their notes. During the rally this manifested itself when Simonian and Neylan, using their 1969 notes on a section which they had not covered during reconnaissance, encountered a bridge which had been changed since their notes were made. They crashed through the parapet and rolled into the almost-dry river bed below. Even though the Datsun was badly damaged, the engine having jumped right out of its mountings, they were able to retrieve the car and continue, only to retire a thousand miles later when oil was lost through a filter casing which unscrewed itself.
The Lancias had a very unhappy rally. In the first 100 miles Lampinen and Davenport collided at very high speed with a noncompeting car and almost demolished their car. There are no Special stages on the Safari; consequently none of the roads are really closed to other traffic, although the organisers do recommend that -spectators, service crews and others keep away from certain difficult sections.
Soon after Lampinen retired, Kallstrom and Hagghom also dropped out when oil was lost through a cracked sump. At the same time Munari and Drews clocked in too early at some time controls and the penalty of exclusion was later applied. Maximum earliness was 30 minutes, and it was possible to be in advance of this on some of the few easy sections. Rather than wait outside the controls until their time came up, they chose to go straight in. Later there were protests and appeals, and the car was allowed to continue pending the result of an appeal by the Lancia people. Munari put up some good times, showing that local knowledge is not all that is needed on the Safari, but their Lancia later crushed, Drews sustaining facial injuries and Munari contracting bronchitis after walking around in the rain.
The Ford team fared no better. Their Capris were fitted with 2.3-litre V6 engines, Kugelfischer fuel injection and lightweight bodies. The result was a team of powerful cars indeed, shown by the lead taken by Aaltonen and Huth in the early stages. But a broken oil pipe delayed their car and, though it was repaired, the damage had been done and they were later forced to retire when the main bearings ran. There was an amusing interlude when officials found that a passage control stamp was missing from Aaltonen’s time card. In the heat of the moment a control officer had banged his rubber stamp against the door of the car instead of the card, making the imprint on the white figure “3”. The imprint remained, and careful use of adhesive tape and a sharp knife later transferred the mark to the time card, to the amused satisfaction of the organisers.
Last year’s winners, Robin Hillyar and Jock Aird, were also driving a works Capri, but they had a succession of troubles, including a broken rear spring, a broken valve and a broken cam follower. Their engine needed frequent attention, hut it was the ingress of mud into the clutch housing which later caused their retirement. The mud cooked hard and prevented the clutch plates meeting. It was thought that the gearbox had failed and it was not until after this unit had been removed that the presence of mud was discovered. Their teammates, Glemser and Kaiser, retired when the forward coupling of their propeller shaft broke, and then the gearbox.
Zasada’s Porsche, although not a particularly good car for the mud, was making dramatic headway on the dry roads and the two Poles were pulling out a commanding lead. The weather had been varied, and it could be said that the 1970 Safari was both wet and dry. Half of it was akin to European special stages and the other half was through characteristic African mud and various degrees of flood. But midway through the second leg the Porsche succumbed to the pounding, losing its oil through a cracked sump. This let the Datsuns of Herrmann/Schuller and Joginder/Ranyard into the leading positions which they maintained to the end.
Peugeots have always been reliable cars in Africa and they have won the Safari several times, in recent years with the 404. This year the East African distributors (with little or no help from the factory, I may add) were using 504 saloons with Kugelfischer fuel injection. These cars were all but standard, there being no formidable list of homologated competition parts to help in their preparation—a direct contrast with the enormous choice open to the Ford team.
A late entrant among the Peugeot team was the 504 driven by Shankland and Rothwell winners in 1966 and 1967. These two live in Tanzania and it was not until long after the draw for starting positions had taken place that the Tanzanian government lifted its ban on residents taking part in the Safari. You will remember that last year there was a showdown when both Tanzania and Uganda wanted a share of the publicity which Kenya gets by having the start and finish in Nairobi, Tanzania banning the rally from its territory and its residents from taking part.
The situation continued into this year, when it was resolved by starting and finishing the rally at Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Administrative headquarters were retained at Nairobi, at least for the first part of the rally, but the duplication of control caused many problems for the organisers, some of them coming to a head when local pressmen complained that the information service was inadequate. Personally, I found it completely adequate; far superior, in fact, to any which can be found in Europe. MOTOR SPORT likes to supplement official information by first-hand facts from competitors and mechanics, whereas reporters of the non-motoring press seem to prefer remaining in the information room waiting for facts to be fed to them.
Because of his late entry, Shankland had to take a number at the back of the field, number 94 in fact, but his tenacity is such that he quickly began the process of overtaking. In the final list he was placed third. The 504 is a heavy car, and the mud which clung to its underside didn’t help at all, often affecting steering, handling and traction. Shankland’s progress along a muddy road gave the impression that he couldn’t control the car, but all he was doing was seeking out every possible pool of water so that splashing through it might wash off a little more of that mud.
That the Safari is hazardous cannot be denied. There were several cases of collision or departure from the road. One Datsun went too close to the rear of a lorry and a projecting part of its bodywork shattered the windscreen and struck one of its crew in the chest. A Peugeot was washed away and its Ugandan driver tragically drowned when he attempted to negotiate a fast-flowing washaway—a river which rises suddenly during a cloudburst and begins flowing over a spot where once a road used to be. Another driver took a thirsty swallow from a Lucozade bottle only to become in dire need of a stomach pump when he found that it contained windscreen washing fluid.
Although there have been fewer finishers in past years than the 19 who completed the course this year within the time allowance. It would be perfectly true to say that the 1970 Safari was probably the toughest yet. There were certain problems which were brought about mainly by the effects of championship conformity on a unique event, but what competitor thinks of those when he is driving at high speed on murram roads.
Again the myth of local supremacy has been perpetuated, for although Edgar Herrmann is a Bavarian he has lived in Kenya for many years. The prize for the first overseas crew to win the Safari has been held over for another year. What European team can possibly resist that challenge ?—G. P.