Toyota got the win it wanted in Kenya, but not from the anticipated source
in the small hours of the morning, a car climbed the ramp in Nairobi after the first leg of the East African Safari Rally, a near-continuous drive to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania and back, spanning some two and a half days. Its red-eyed crew, limbs stiff, shirts, shorts and even skin stained red-brown with either murram dust or mud, climbed out wearily. They were dog-tired, but happy to be where they were and looking forward to the second leg, into Uganda and a short stop in Kampala and then back to Nairobi. But first they wanted a sandwich or two and a quick wash and brush-up. The controller rechecked their time card, looked at his clock and remarked, “You chaps have just got time for a quick pee. You’re due to restart in five minutes.”
Such was the Safari in those days, not so long ago, when it ran through all three countries of East Africa. Maximum lateness could be anything up to six hours or so, and was often extended far beyond that. But lateness ate into the rest stop, and if you were seven and a half hours late arriving at what was a scheduled eight hour stop, you only had half an hour before you were due out again.
No one complained; no one suggested improvements. It was the toughest rally in the world and this was what everyone wanted.
In the meantime, however, the FIA has carried out a crafty dilution policy with the result that the Safari is a shadow of its former self. It runs for four days instead of five; it has three night stops instead of one and has no night running at all (stragglers excepted). The latter plays to the gallery of film makers, making rallies more attractive to TV companies, so that the FIA’s offshoot film-licensing (accreditation) company in London can reap handsome filming fees for no outlay whatsoever. We warned some 20 or so years ago that meddling European hands should be kept off the Safari. . . Notwithstanding this, the Safari, sponsored by Kenya’s Trust Bank and Shell
Kenya and handsomely supported by Kenya Airways, remains unique. It is by no means as tough as it used to be, but it is nevertheless on a level above all the others. It is the only one which is timed in minutes rather than seconds and the only one which runs on open roads rather than sterile special stages. Who needs seconds when the winning margin is 25 minutes and more than nine hours separate first from 10th?
In the words of one competitor, “The Safari is the last real rally.”
The timing system this year turned the clock back somewhat. instead of having target times for competitive sections, some of which have been cleanable in the past, each of these sections had targets of zero, which meant that one’s actual time taken was one’s penalty. In this way, there was no chance of anyone cleaning such a section and losing the advantage of a gained minute or two just because someone else, although slower, also cleaned it. There were fears that FIA delegates, of which there were several, may have objected, but the system produced no more hazards than the old target system and is, after all, no different from European special stage timing methods.
Incidentally, one of the officials listed in the regulations was called “guest of honour”, an FIA man there at the expense of the organisers for no more reason that we could detect than a free holiday. When the organisers’ coffers are rather bare, as they were said to be, is such costly kow-towing really necessary? Practice and testing often go hand in hand in Kenya, although a Celica had been in the hands of Ian Duncan for some six months in advance so that he could report on what broke and engineers could devise remedies. During the few weeks before the rally, rain fell in abundance, delighting farmers and those who hoped for a wet Safari. But it all cleared away and, apart from light rain over the start ramp and a few
scattered showers thereafter, the rally was predominantly dry, albeit with the rough patches caused by washaways produced by rain-induced instant rivers. Iuha Kankkunen has a slight setback during his practice period. Taking a break from note making, he and Nicky Grist indulged in both golf and water skiing, and whilst engaged in the latter at the Kenya coast the Finn had a small mishap and broke a toe. But it soon stopped being painful. As usual, helicopters were in plentiful supply, but they should have no place whatsoever in rally servicing. Such artificial means of producing instant aid are entirely alien to the concept of rallying. As a safety measure they are unbeatable, but to carry mechanics, spares and fuel, and to call out hazard warnings from the air whilst flying overhead their precious cars, they are no more than the tools of the well-heeled, giving works teams a huge advantage. I have no doubt that the daylight-only rule came about not only to pander to film makers and induce them to part with huge facility fees, but to allow manufacturers to have their attendant helicopters to overfly their cars every inch of the way. We have even heard them called by radio to land quickly so that their crews can change wheels after a puncture, and that is about as far from the true spirit of the sport as you can get. Entries this year were as thin on the ground as they were in 1993. The only real works effort was that of the Toyota Castrol team which sent four cars from Cologne for luha Kankkunen/Nicky Grist, Didier Auriol/
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Bernard Occelli, local men lan Duncan/ Dave Williamson and, from Japan, Yoshio Fujimoto/Hakaru !chino. The works Toyotas were on Michelin tyres and were fitted with bigger fuel tanks than usual, frontal protection bars and snorkel tubes leading from the engine air intakes.
Other, private, Celicas were in the hands of Jonathan Toroitich, the Kenyan president’s son, Satwant Singh from Zambia and Yasuhiro Iwase from Japan.
There was no official entry from the UK-based Mitsubishi Ralliart team, but a Japan-prepared Lancer came for Kenjiro Shinozuka who was partnered by his codriver of last year, Pentti Kuukkala from Finland. The same applied to the Subarus. Nothing came from Prod rive, but there were two Japan-built Group N lmprezas for local man Patrick Njiru (who speaks Japanese after being educated in Tokyo) and rising British newcomer Richard Burns. Kenyan Hasmat Shamji also had an Impreza. The Mitsubishi was on Yokohama tyres and the newly ratified Subarus on Bridgestones.
Rudi Stohl, the rallying adventurer from Austria, drove his Audi S2 Ouattro with Jurgen Bertl, the former Toyota co-ordinator from Germany, whilst Azar Anwar drove a Subaru Legacy with Shailen Shah. Michael Hughes, son of clerk of the course and former winner Peter Hughes, was in another Legacy with Mark Jennings. Mark Tilbury and Chris McLean drove a Nissan Pulsar, whilst Rob Hellier and Phil Valentine were in a Mitsubishi Galant VR4. From Austria, Stefan Reininger and Robert Csosz brought a Subaru Legacy. Howard Paterson came from Britain to drive a Vol
kswagen Golf partnered by Mohammed Verjee, whilst local men Sammy Aslam and Joey Ghose were in a similar car. Local Britisher Robin Boyd-Moss drove a Ford Sapphire Cosworth with Mark Trower. Down the field, the most intrepid (and optimistic) entry was that of Germans Michael Kahlfuss and Ronald Bauer. This resolute pair drove the same, diminutive Trabant as they used in the RAC and the Monte-Carlo Rally, its 598 cc two-stroke engine hardly being capable of getting the car up some of the steep climbs, let alone get to the finish. But they nursed and fettled the car most of the way. replacing the various broken parts themselves, and only went out when they exceeded maximum
lateness, to the disappointment of many.
Whilst much rain fell during the practice period, causing many ruts and washaways, it all cleared away before the start, delighting some (but not all) farmers and sending spray pilots scuttling for their Pawnees and Ag-Wagons, forsaking their planned Safari jobs. Nairobi was dark and dismal on the Thursday morning of the start, and there were even some showers, but this is not unusual and the grey skies soon gave way to blue, the wet tarmac leading to dry, powdery, dusty murram as the rally moved southwards. The first leg went via Ngong to the first competitive section to Oltepesi. the first time we recall this particular road being
used in the Safari. It then went via Olepolos. gateway to the Kedong Valley, before heading across the bush to Kajiado, where it crossed the tarmac road to the Namanga border with Tanzania and then headed further north to Sultan Ha mud, on the main Mombasa road. From Emali, also on the Mombasa road, it skirted to the east of Machakos, via Wamunyu, and returned to Nairobi though Matuu and Thika. One of the unlucky starters was John Ngunjiri who arrived late at the start ramp in his Mazda 323. His little daughter, upset at being told she could not go to wave him off, had hidden his car keys and it took a while to persuade her to reveal the hiding place. We understand she was finally allowed to
see her father on his way.
From the start, Auriol, even though he had been given a whole bag full of advice and had paced himself in practice, could not find the right rhythm. It seems that he went far too fast and was delayed by problem after problem, although he and his co-driver said that they had taken it easily. A split driveshaft gaiter led to eventual shaft breakage, leading to three lost minutes on the easy, 10-mile tarmac section (20 minutes allowed) from Sultan Hamud to Emali. The shaft proved difficult to replace. Later, a broken front strut was followed by a front left puncture, the repair of which was carried out by a chase car crew
who took parts from their own car. Not long after, the disabled chase car got under way again after parts were delivered by one of Toyota’s helicopters. Later, the rear suspension collapsed and Auriol lost a whole hour, a fatal delay by European standards but possibly recoverable in such a difficult and unpredictable event as the Safari.
At the end of the day, Auriol was down to 10th place, but he was quite adamant that he had not been driving too fast. He was desperately trying to overcome his European instincts and to drive at something like 75 per cent of his normal pace.
Duncan, in the meantime, also had a driveshaft gaiter break, which led to another failure, whilst a strange fault in the wiper/washer circuit resulted in both being on all the time. The only way they could turn the irritating things off was by removing the fuse, and the matter was not even put right until the next day, a worrying defect considering the number of wet mud holes around. Fujimoto’s main concern was to beat Shinozuka and thereby gain much publicity back home in Japan. But he went off and hit a tree so hard that the windscreen smashed,
the co-driver’s door was destroyed and the seat ripped from its mountings. He got to the end of the leg, but a hospital X-ray revealed that poor !chino had suffered an upper pelvis fracture.
As the latter was almost unable to get out of bed in the morning, the decision was made that the car should be withdrawn. Burns broke both his front struts in the first competitive section and lost a couple of minutes to team-mate Njiru. He found it difficult to cope with having to drive at what he called 50 per cent and was quite taken aback when a thrown stone shattered his
rear window. Njiru collected two punctures during the day, whilst Stohl had both a puncture and a broken gearbox oil pipe. He and Bertl replaced both themselves. lwase lost two hours when a front strut broke on the first competitive section and later stopped when his fuel pump failed. Toroitich had a broken rear strut replaced, and lost some three minutes when he had the misfortune to arrive at Sultan Hamud just when a train was going over the level crossing between him and the main road. British privateer Howard Paterson stopped early in the day when the sump of his Golf
broke before Kajiado. At the end of the day, Kankkunen led from Duncan by six minutes. Shinozuka was another 10 minutes behind and Burns another six, the latter doing very well on his first trip to Kenya. The indefatigable Trabant crew was 31st of the 33 who finished the leg. Auriol was still 10th
In Europe, it is often the practice for delayed works drivers to be moved up on the road so that they would not have to encounter slower drivers. Whether this is right or wrong is a matter of opinion, but the principle was followed even in the all-road Safari, and Auriol restarted sixth.
The second leg again went to the, south, skirting Machakos and looping through an extremely tortuous but somewhat boring (Kankkunen called it “Mickey Mouse”) section in the huge Mwatate sisal plantation before going through the Taita Hills from Bura to Ndi.
It was here that the rally changed completely. Earlier, it had been said that Duncan had been told to stay second to Kankkunen, but, just before Ndi, the Finn hit a rut on a piece of straight road and rolled several times. His head cut and with slight concussion, he was later taken away by one of Toyota’s helicopters and, when he could be located, seen by the team doctor. Both Kankkunen and Grist were then taken to a Nairobi hospital where their injuries were found not to be serious. Duncan, still suffering from a stomach disorder which had struck him the previous day, found himself in the lead, throwing the Toyota people into something of a turmoil, although they would not admit it. Their first winning choice had been Kankkunen, followed by Auriol, and having Duncan in the lead, with Auriol several places back, was something of an embarrassment, especially as Shinozuka’s Mitsubishi was second. To
lose to a Mitsubishi would be a huge loss of face.
Shinozuka’s gearbox began losing oil, causing his clutch to slip, but both units were replaced at the end of the leg and the Lancer was in fine fettle again. Auriol, on the other hand, was going rather slower than he had the previous day. Nevertheless, he broke front struts again in the Taita Hills and nearly hit a matatu (a pick-up truck converted into a bush taxi). He complained of being dusted by Burns, but this is the word of one Safari newcomer about another and should be taken with a pinch of salt. The French driver kept on saying that this was not rallying, but, never having done the event before, he had no experience of from which to draw. Burns had a misfortune before
Machakos. His brakes failed, he hit a bank (dislodging a German photographer) and emerged from the section on three wheels, the right rear folded under the car. There was great activity in service as the (nonrally) mechanics from Japan frantically tried to repair the car. Having lost 25 minutes on the ensuing tarmac section into the Nairobi approach control, the car still went into the closed park with some vital bolts missing.
Njiru collected a puncture and lost his rear window, so that dust became a problem, especially on the powder-fine roads of the Mwatate sisal estate. Later, his sumpguard had to be put back on properly and a new radiator had to be fitted.
Satwant Singh, the African expert from Zambia, had to be towed home after his Celica’s engine blew, whilst Michael Hughes, after his rear diff had to be changed before Kajiado, suffered the same engine fate. Donald Smith spent considerable time at Hunter’s Lodge, a popular “waterhole” on the Nairobi-Mombasa road. having the sumpguard of his Escort Cosworth tightened up and a broken half shaft replaced.
At the end of the leg, Duncan’s lead over Shinozuka was 16 minutes a huge margin by European standards but a mere click of the fingers in Kenya. Njiru was another 32 minutes back and Burns another 15. Auriol was just two minutes behind Burns.
For the third leg, Auriol, although he was fifth, was moved up to third on the road, and later he clawed his way to first on the road, and one wonders whether stewards should be allowed to give such advantageous aids to works crews? Duncan hit an impala which broke his
front suspension on the way through the Kedong Valley to the Narok road at Ntulele. Later, he was given new suspension units all round, plus a new wing and a headlamp. The radiator was not punctured, as was at first suspected.
Further north, after the double loop through the tortuous, undulating roads of the Mau Narok Escarpment, Shinozuka had a broken front suspension bracket replaced, whilst Auriol got in front on the road, Duncan then being slowed both by dust and by an intercom failure. Shinozuka actually waved Auriol on when he spotted him behind, but was later himself delayed when Auriol had a front strut break and Shinozuka was unable to repass.
Njiru hit a rock hidden in a mud hole, lost some 18 minutes at the time and later two more when his engine mountings needed attention. He also had turbocharger failure, the unit being replaced just before Eldoret. Burns, still with an oddly behaving car after his accident on the second leg, broke an engine mount and found gear changing difficult, whilst Shamji’s Impreza caught fire on the way to Eldama Ravine. Hellier and Valentine stopped to help and he got under way again, but later he was slowed when his brakes failed.
Toroitich went out after a track rod broke in the Cherangani Hills. It was repaired, but the time taken put him beyond his maximum lateness at Eldoret. The Trabant had its steering fall apart on the Mau Escarpment, but Kahlfuss and Bauer simply replaced the lot with parts carried in the little car. Sadly, this took time, and the two adventurers from eastern Germany were time-barred at Eldoret.
Duncan’s lead over Shinozuka was then 25 minutes, Auriol being another half an hour behind. Shinozuka’s presence was obviously an embarrassment to Toyota. One got the message that, had Shinozuka not been there to split the two Toyotas, Duncan may have been told to let Auriol ahead. That is merely a personal opinion, of course, but everyone felt that the Mitsubishi was a fly in the Toyota ointment.
Fourth place was held by Njiru, an hour and a quarter behind Auriol and just eight minutes ahead of Burns, whilst Stahl was sixth, over an hour and half back. Hellier had needed to stop for a puncture replacement, to change his power steering belt and to bleed his clutch hydraulic system.
The final leg, after a rather sleepless night due to loud disco music in and around the Sirikwa Hotel in Eldoret, ran south, again over the Mau Escarpment and coming to a competitive end at Kongoni Farm on the north-western shore of Lake Naivasha. just where the dirt meets the tarmac. It was here that winner Duncan had a broken front shock absorber replaced, but there was no hurry. Indeed, the major concerns were providing clean T-shirts, washing the,car and replacing damaged advertising stickers. Prior to this, Auriol had needed yet two more front struts near !ten, where a helicopter crew came to his assistance, and it
was about this time that he changed his tune about the rally. Earlier he had not been at all enthusiastic. In fact, he had been positively critical. But towards the end he mellowed and admitted to a fascination for both the country and the event. Njiru collected a puncture but nevertheless arrived as Group N winner ahead of team-mate Bums, who had been certainly the quicker of the two, troubles excepted. Shamji retired his Impreza at La net, with the finish almost in sight, whilst Stohl made it to sixth place, albeit with an engine which sounded like a wailing warthog having its tail trimmed by a chain saw. Ugandans Hirji and Nakusa finished seventh, exclaiming that the 1995 Safari should take in their country as
well as Kenya, reverting to the old East African title. What will happen next year remains to be seen. It is said that the rally will be a qualifier only for the two-wheel-drive cup, but the FIA is notorious for changing its mind so the outcome is by no means sure. The rotation principle may be fixed in theory, but what happens in practice is anyone’s guess. One thing stands out. The Safari has had enough of Europeanisation. It is now time to call a halt and keep the event African. What’s more, the organisers might consider removing their dormant fingers and seek the sponsorship and the entry that the event deserves. To repeat what we wrote some 25 years ago, it is still the greatest rally in the world . . G P