Rally Review, November 1972

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Rallying in Africa

Although the AA of East Africa has announced with commendable, if rather obvious, diplomacy that the route of the 1973 East African Safari will pass through Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, rally people who have experience of the event are not at all convinced that this will be the case. It has to be accepted that the organisers cannot take the risk of running the rally through areas of unrest, subjecting competitors, officials and followers to whatever perils there may be at the time. Two years ago an agreement was made between the three East African countries that the route would pass through all three territories provided the start/finish would be moved year by year between Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam and Kampala, the Kenyan capital being used on alternate years and each of the other two every fourth year. On paper, a route will be planned to take in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, but whether that will emerge in practice remains very much to be seen. Needless to say, alternative routes and all their necessary documents are sure to be held in reserve.

Nairobi is on the route for the 1973 start, which gives the predominantly Kenya-based organisers an advantage inasmuch as they are subjected to less travel, they are on hand to organise the rather complicated start, finish and halfway arrangements and they are able to make route amendments without upsetting those arrangements.

We have always considered Nairobi to be the home of the Safari, and transporting the start/finish to either of the other capitals is a needless stretching of organisational resources. Furthermore, it creates unwarranted complications for competitors, particularly those from overseas who want to be based where communications and transport are at their best.

The three countries together have an alliance called the East African Community, and in theory there should be ease of travel, trade and communication between them. In practice it doesn’t work that way at all, and crossing the border between one country and another is a formality infinitely more prolonged than crossing from a Western European country to another. The transport of spare parts to various service points along the route is by no means a simple job, and there have been cases of loaded vans being held up for whole days at border posts. Indeed, a team manager who runs his outfit efficiently in East Africa has really earned his salary by the time he is ready to leave for home.

The Safari is a sporting event, but it also happens to be the biggest and most publicised international occasion in East Africa. Although purists, ourselves included, may be offended by what appears to be unwarranted interference with the running of the event as a rally first and last, one cannot blame legislators for making use of the occasion for political purposes. Perhaps that is being too strong, but where three adjacent developing countries are attempting to strengthen the bonds between them it is natural that a sporting event which traverses all three should be put up as evidence that the bonds are firm and tight. Alas, recent happenings in East Africa indicate that the bonds are weaker than Safari visitors are led to believe, and perhaps it is now time that the rally organisers are given a free hand to run their event in the most efficient way possible with no governmental influence or pressures. It is a fine sporting occasion, and attempts by non-rallying people, no matter what their positions, to place their fingers in the pie should be resisted as vigorously as is dared. Continued influence by agencies outside the immediate circle of organisers could well bring about a decline in the event’s popularity and its final extinction as an outstanding international competition and a fine test of man and machine. In truth, that would be a very sad day indeed for all concerned in East Africa.

As always, the next Safari takes place over the Easter weekend, usually on the fringe of the “long rains” so that it is always a matter of speculation whether the event will be dry and dusty or wet and muddy. The two conditions demand different skills; indeed, they favour different motor cars, and when the going is very sticky and punctuated by washaways and swollen rivers a small element of chance does enter into the proceedings. Next year the chances of a wet Safari are quite high for Easter falls about two-thirds of the way through April when heavy rains are almost certain.

* * *

The November issue of Motor Sport is usually the one in which we give you some brief facts about the RAC Rally of Great Britain and tell you where you can obtain more detailed information. This year things have changed, for the rally takes place not in November but in December, a change made necessary by the possibility that a second London-Sydney Marathon would clash with the customary November date. When it became obvious that there would be no Marathon, it was too late to upset the international calendar by moving the RAC Rally back into November.

Last year violent snowstorms stretched the organisation of the rally to the limit, and at one point the whole thing was in danger of coming to a complete stop. The event is essentially a loose-road rally and no provision is made for snow—studded tyres are banned, for instance. This year snow is even more likely, so it remains to be seen whether there will be any difficulties as a result. As a safeguard, the route has been kept south of a line joining Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The event will be based in York, starting there during the morning of December 2 and finishing there during the evening of December 5—one day shorter than usual. The half-way stop on Sunday night will also be at York, and the two legs will form loops emanating from the City. More details concerning the route and the competitors will be given in next month’s Motor Sport. — G. P.