Drivers learn valuable lessons after 5000km of Classic Rally action

Kenya's Hamza Anwar and Sanjay Wason in action at the East African Classic Rally. [East African Safari Classic]

It has been a solid nine days in the wild.

The drivers have been battling hard for the precious East African Safari Classic Rally gong in the tenth edition that ended in Watamu, Kilifi County yesterday.

Out of the 48 contestants, only one driver, Baldev Chager went home with the top prize.

The other contestants carried with them some of precious life lessons they learnt from the tough, tedious and energy sapping 5000km journey that began on February 10 in Naivasha.

Despite leading the event for nine consecutive days, the Kabras Sugar Racing star reiterated that his purpose in the event was not about the glittering trophy.

This follows his past experiences in the discipline which spans over a decade. “Rallying is not always about winning but more so what you walk away with in knowledge, discipline, experience, friends, fun and contentment,” the four time Kenya National Rally Championships winner says.

As for Steve Parkinson and his son Russell, they learnt that family is key in whatever you do.

The duo decided to make a debut in the toughest motorsport showpiece in the globe to honour Bill,
(Russell’s granddad and Steve’s father.)

Rally legend Bill was a well known, historically, in the Kenyan motor sport circles.

He contested 14 of the original Safari Rallies with a Mini Classic victory to boot. Sadly, Bill passed away not too long ago.

“Apart from enjoying ourselves, we were here to further Bill’s legacy. He used to love and compete in the Safari many many years ago. He was part of the rally scene for a long time.

“So we felt it was necessary for us to carry that on and come join these other boys,” says Russell who drove the Ford Escort MK2 built and prepared by former World Rally champion Phil Mills.

Swede driver Patrik Sandell who finished second overall says he came to realise it was important to have room for a change of plan.

“Don’t stick to your objective to the end, nothing is cast on stones. Have some room for adjustments.” All throughout the rally I stuck to my strategy which also had faults.

“My plan was just to be up there, never take any risk, be as fast when it was possible, back off the speed when it was rough and not to do any crazy thing.

“I believe I could have done even much better had I gone full throttle in some stages.”

Sandell was the first driver to accept defeat when he send an early congratulatory message to Chager just a day before the final.

Nicola ‘Nikki’ Bleicher who navigated defending champion Kris Rosenberger of Austria says she realised that women are actually better co-drivers than men.

“Women are organised, structured, don’t get into panic mode so fast and are strict with the schedules,” she says.

The efficient ‘German Machine’ advises fellow women to cultivate bravery if they want to be great forces within the sport.

As for Lynda Hughes, her greatest lesson from the rally is that the competition should be able to add more fun and lots of laughter to your life, since its not a matter of life and death.

Hughes first competed in the event in 1981 (then known as Safari Rally) with her last event in 1992 before resuming the contest this year after a protracted period.

Reigning Africa and Kenya championships winner Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo realised that falling down is not the mistake, problem is failing to pick yourself up.

The multiple KNRC champion was dejected when his Triumph TR7 blew up its engine on Day 2 of the Rally.

“It was depressing, but we didn’t give up. We believe the sun will shine on us very soon,” said Tundo who has also learnt that the Classic Rally is not about how fast you are but it’s all about luck and endurance.

Hall of Famer Ian Duncan, who bagged third place, says he learnt that everyone is a threat from the opening day.

It’s after that Leg 1 incident that the two time EASCR winner started to work on his ranking upwards toward the finish line.

Kenyans Baldev Chager (Right) and his co-driver Drew Sturrock celebrates winning the East African Safari Rally Classic at Watamu in Kilifi County on February 18, 2022.[Omondi Onyango,Standard]

The KNRC 2003 and 2004 champion Lee Rose has now put his focus on the family business after making his debut in the event.

Rose says he will now concentrate on farming rather than the rally because it’s what is paying his bills.

American social media rally sensation Ken Block concluded that the event was the wildest rally race competition he has ever taken part in his life after coming a cross wildebeest, flamingos, gazelles, lions, elephants among other wildlife during the journey.

“It was like being in our own personal safari, this truly was one of a kind race,” he said.

For Eric Bengi, learning more about cancer awareness was a key moment in the race.

Bengi and his navigator Mindo Gatimu opted not to just compete but to touch lives with their Datsun180B machine that was fully branded with cancer awareness messages.

“This disease is a menace, it now kills more than HIV/Aids, it’s high time the world knew about this,” he said.

Former KNRC multi podium finisher Quentin Mitchell realised resuming rallying after a five year hiatus makes one feel like a rookie.

Four-time Kenya Rally Raid champion Nish Lakhani learnt a very tough lesson in the last ten days.

He realised that when it rains, it actually pours! This is after the 50-year-old speedster struggled with the engine of his Datsun SSS that went dead just a day to the flag off.

To add salt to the injury, the car spare parts that came from overseas were of wrong specifications.

Joey Ghose, the EASCR Board Chairman, also learnt that it’s important to factor in activities done by the local communities where the rally routes are sectioned after Stage 11 and 12 were cancelled on Sunday.