Loeb shows that motor racing desperately needs its big-name heroes
The backflip capped it all, didn’t it? At 47, Sébastien Loeb had just eclipsed Björn Waldegard’s record set at the 1990 Safari Rally to become the World Rally Championship’s oldest…
Stig Blomqvist is a living rallying legend. Now in his 69th year, the Swede was World Rally Champion more than 30 years ago and continues to compete across the world in classic events.
However, until last week there was one victory that had evaded him despite countless attempts. He had never won the Safari Rally in Africa. That all changed last week when Blomqvist and co-driver Stephane Prevot had a near-perfect run to win the East African Safari Classic.
The classic version of the Safari is every bit as tough as the event that ran as a round of the World Rally Championship from 1973 to 2002. This was the seventh running of the biennial Classic version, which tested man and machine across eight tough days of rallying with only a single rest day mid-rally.
A message from his son, racing driver Tom, on Twitter congratulated his father on achieving a ‘long-held dream’. Back in 1984 Blomqvist won the Ivory Coast Rally in Africa for Audi on his way to the world title, but it took until his 51st year of rallying for that elusive Safari victory to finally come.
The Race4Health-entered Porsche 911 of Blomqvist and Prevot arrived at the finish in Mombasa on Friday eight minutes clear of the similar car of countrymen and team mates Richard Goransson and Emil Axelsson.
In true Safari style, the rally featured long days and incredibly long competitive sections as well as all the usual challenges of mud holes, flooding, wild animals, river crossings and local traffic.
Despite the conditions and challenges, Blomqvist and Prevot had a remarkably clear run and only two punctures on day four cost them time in the Porsche. “The Safari is never easy but on the final day we knew we had a decent lead,” said Blomqvist. “Running first car on the road is always a bit difficult with a lot of local traffic. This year’s rally was quite rough and we had some rain and a bit of everything.”
Competing on the event for only the second time, Swedish touring car racer Goransson regularly matched the pace of his far more experienced team mate and went into the final day only five minutes behind. But the gap grew to eight minutes on the last day when Goransson got stuck in a mud hole, had a door that would not close and then had a third gearbox break.
One of the big challenges to Blomqvist was removed before the rally even started when local ace and 2013 winner Ian Duncan withdrew his Ford Capri RS3100 on the eve of the rally with terminal engine problems. After a lengthy eligibility wrangle over his plan to run the Capri in local Perana specification, Duncan converted the car to RS3100 trim but his work was in vain.
Porsches dominated the rally and filled eight of the top 10 positions. Team mates Gregoire De Mevius and Bernard Munster sandwiched local driver Alistair Cavanagh to complete the top five. De Mevius hit a spectator’s car on the final day and broke a driveshaft, but Munster towed him for over 10 miles to get De Mevius to the end of the section and keep him in the rally.
British competitors filled out the lower end of the top 10 as Tuthill Porsche pairings Richard Jackson/Ryan Champion and Steve Troman/Calvin Cooledge took eighth and ninth places. Jackson and Champion shared the driving and their event typified the unique challenge offered by the Safari.
“We were fastest on the second stage and set some good times. Ryan drove particularly well and we would have been in the frame if we hadn’t had a distributor problem on day six,” said Jackson. “That brought us to a standstill in a 50-mile stage and we had to wait to be rescued. We pulled ourselves back and are pleased to be in the top 10.”
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