East Africa Safari Classic, a rich history of rallying

Carl Tundo in past action during the East Africa Classic Safari Rally. [Courtesy]

The East African Safari Classic Rally is the world's toughest historic rally with its history traced back to the 1950’s.

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

The Safari Rally has since been held annually attracting international interest from competitors all over the world.

The first winner of the Rally by then known as East Africa Coronation Safari Rally was Alan Dix with a Volkswagen Beetle in an event that attracted 90 rally drivers. 

In 1957, the FIA marked the coronation Rally on its international motor sport calendar.

The event attracted international interest but the local drivers dominated it due to knowledge of the terrains. 

The Safari Rally was believed to be the most difficult one in the WRC championship due to changing weather patterns, rough terrains.

In 1960, the event was renamed East Africa Safari Rally which incorporated other drivers from the East African states. The name was retained till 1974 when it became the Safari Rally.

With the independence of the East Africa Countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the rally continued to cross between borders, with start and finish points regularly rotated on an annual basis.

In 1972, Hannu Mikkola and Gunn Sr Palm finally took the first Safari win by a European crew, in the mighty Ford Escort RS 1,600 ushering in a new era where Safari became a key part of the international WRC calendar, with huge investments from works teams such as Lancia and Toyota, and latterly Ford and Subaru.

Being dropped by the WRC in 2003, the Safari has continued as a regional event, both in the KRNC and ARC.

The event adopted the special stage format in 1996. From that edition until 2002, it featured over 1000 km of timed stages.

 In 2017 was the only time the Classic resulted in a tie: Richard Jackson and Ryan Champion in the 911 with Flash Tundo and Tim Jessop in the TR7 similar to what happened in 1958 when T. Brooke in a Ford Anglia, Anne Kopperud with Ford Zephyr and Morris Temple-Boreham in Auto Union tied.

On 27 September 2019, the Safari Rally was reintroduced into the WRC championship calendar starting with the 2020 rally between 16 and 19 July, but was later cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

 The Safari Rally eventually made a comeback to the WRC in 2021 after an eighteen-year hiatus from the 24th - 27th June, with a successful event held in Kenya on the floor of the Rift Valley in Naivasha, Nakuru County.

Sebastian Ogier and Julien Ingrassia emerged as winners in their Toyota Yaris WRC.

Local driver Shekhar Mehta, a local driver, has successively won the event, with five outright victories, first in 1973, then consecutively from 1979 to 1982.

In 2019 Kris Rosenberger and Nicola Bleicher were victorious. At the same time as the WRC’s decision, another momentous event occurred –the reinvention of the Safari Rally for Classic Cars, returning East Africa to the international motor sport scene and recreating the spirit of rallying in the hey days.

The Safari was less a rally than an adventure. To get through 6000 kilometres of rain, wild animals. Reminiscing about the early days of the Classic - the winners of the first two editions, Rob Collinge and Anton Levitan, look forward to ever-increasing success for the event.

This year’s East African Classic Safari Rally is a nine full day event covering almost 5,000km across Kenya, starting in Naivasha and ending in Watamu.

Big names signing for the event include Kenyans Carl Tundo, co-driver- Kenyan- Tim Jessop, in a Triumph TR7 car, Baldev Chager, co-driver, Ravi Soni, in a Porsche 911, Ian Duncan, co-driver Anthony Neilson, in a Rover Vitesse, Lee Rose, with her co-driver Douglas McNeil, in a Ford Escort RS 1,800. 

South Africa’s Geoff Bell, with Kenya’s co-driver Tim Challen, in a Datsun 240Z, while American Ken Block, and Italian co-driver Alex Gelsomino, in a Porsche 911, Swedish driver Patrick Sandell with his countryman Henrik Bolinder, in a Porsche 911 and Australian Kris Rosenberger, with a German co-driver Nicole Bleicher with a Porsche 911.

Seed Group 2 comprise of Andrew Siddail, Gary McEihinney, Datsun 280Z,

Kenyan Jonathan Somen, with co-driver Richard Hechie, in a Ford Escort MK 2, Frank Tundo, and Speedy Tundo, in a Triumph TR7, Stefano Rocca and Piers Daykin, in a Datsun 240Z, John Rose and Mike Borissow, in a Datsun Violet GT.

Belgium Joost Van Cauwenbergh and Jacques Castelein, in a Porsche 911, while

Briton Richard Arrowsmith and a Kenyan Tej Sehmi, in a Ford Escort RS 2000 while American David Danglard and Kenyan co-driver Gavin Laurence in a Porsche 911.

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