KENYA’s Carl “Flash” Tundo opened a 1.9 seconds lead over compatriot Manvir Baryan over the 36km Kedong I stage as the 2018 ARC Safari Rally competition proper got underway in on the floor of the Great Rift Valley on Friday. However, Karan Patel and Paras Pandya bid the event a good bye because of mechanical problems.
Tundo, navigated by Tim Jessop in a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X, averaged 103.1kph on a stage that, despite being short and “smooth” graded, drivers described as surprisingly difficult; and to the purists a confirmation of the fabled toughness of the Safari that is bidding to be put back on the World Rally Championship calendar in 220.
Baryan and Drew Sturrock in a Skoda Fabia showed similar pedigree in speed with an average of 103kph in results produced in real time by WRC standard timing system to a 1,000th of a second.
Also inside a minute time lost, Onkar Rai and Gareth Dawe in a similar car were 21 seconds adrift with former Africa Rally Championship winner, Jaspreet Chatthe in fourth. He however complained of teething problems with the gears of his Mitsubishi Evo X. This first day action indicated that the Safari race will be tight and even the slight margin of error or easing the throttle could change the leader board
The loose and power fine soil wrecked havoc for back markers as the machines dug deeper into the surface the first six cars were separated inside a minute as even in fifth former Safari champion Baldev Chager was 27 seconds behind.
But the character of yore in the Safari, of driver coming a cropper even before the first few kilometres of dust or mud splash had been covered, it was instantly tough for some and in particular Lovejyot Soni and Linet Ayuko who rolled their Subaru Impreza in spectacular fashion.
Though both coming out uninjured, Ayuko was shaken. “It happened just too fast and the next moment the car was rolling,” as she shrugged: “It is rallying, anyway.” Soni was disappointed but was desperately trying to have his mechanics work fast on body work repairs to hopefully be back on the Safari tomorrow (Saturday) morning.
Car No. 60 crew of Moez Malik and Steve Njenga complained of overnight craters developing on the road that had been described smooth on the eve of the Safari start. “In our recce the section was smooth but traction from front runners turned out to be our misery.”
Daren Miranda in Car No 43, a Subaru Impreza who was lying 31st at Sopa Lodge control expressed similar displeasure. “We are fine although the road was rough after the front runners pounded it. We expect a better ride tomorrow (Saturday).
Tanzanian Huwel Ahmed in a Ford Poto complained in teething engine problems but hoped the mechanics would rectify the problem ahead of Saturday’s test in Soysambu Ranch where spectators will be able to watch the action up close and candid if the rains don’t pour.
Irish couple of Matt and Catherine Shinnors who came to Kenya just to have a feel of the Safari were a surprising 18th in a Classic Ford MK2. Randeep Singh and Gurvinder Singh from Tanzania in a Mitsubishi EVO X were the highest placed foreigners in seventh. Ugandans Duncan Mubiru and Musa Nsubaga in a Subaru GVB were 11th overall.
The first day action in the Safari as the final preparations of the event in the past two days was under the microscopic watch of FIA (International Automobile Federation) to see whether Kenya’s organization would meet the world body’s criteria for the Safari to be re-admitted in the WTC calendar.
Oliver Ciesla, the (FIA) WRC Promoter Managing Director started his four day Safari Rally observer mission with a very promising proposal to Kenyans. Then at the flagging off of the rally at down town Nairobi’s Kenyatta International Conference Centre he added: “It is our desire to return the Safari Rally back to the World Rally Championship as soon as possible because the event is mutually beneficial to us.”
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Development of Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL), Eugene Wamalwa ceremoniously flagged off the first several cars out of KICC.