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SPORTS

Charm and fairy tales of ‘toughest rally’

MOTORSPORT By Ochieng Oyugi and Agencies | June 24th 2021
Rally driver Lucille Cardwell and Jill lead climbing Athi River during East African Safari Rally in March 1964. [File, The Standard]

The Safari Rally is a motorsport race in Kenya.

It was first held from May 27 to 1 June, 1953 as the East African Coronation Safari in Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika, as a celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

In 1960, it was renamed the East African Safari Rally and maintained that name until 1974, when it became the Safari Rally.

Widely regarded as one of the most popular African races, it was set to make a return to the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 2020 after an 18-year hiatus, but was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has instead made a comeback in the 2021 World Rally Championship.

The older version of the Safari Rally was notorious for being by far, the most difficult rally in the WRC championship.

Some had said that winning this particular rally was akin to winning three other rallies.

The arduous conditions, such as the constantly changing weather and the rough roads often dotted with sharp rocks, made life quite difficult for teams.

The cars were always calling out for repairs, which added to the elapsed time of the competitors.

All these work had to be done under intense heat and humidity. The event adopted the special stage format in 1996.

From that edition until 2002, it featured over 1,000 km of timed stages, with sections well over 60 kilometres long, unlike most rallies, which had under 500 kilometres of total timed distance.

Rally driver Shekhar Mehta celebrates after winning Malboro Safari Rally in April 1981. [File, Standard]

This meant that the winner's total time penalty was above 12 hours in 1996 and decreased to two seconds shy of 8 hours in 2002.

The event was excluded from the WRC calendar due to a lack of finance and organisation in 2003.

Since 2003, the event has been part of the African Rally Championship, organised by the FIA.

On September 27, 2019, the Safari Rally was re-admitted to the WRC championship calendar.

Shekhar Mehta is the most successful local driver in the event with five outright victories, in 1973, and 1979 to 1982.

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