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Foreign legion warned: Be prepared, Safari is different kettle of fish

TOP: ANWAR SIDI photographs zebra, unperturbed by the speeding Guy Botterill of South Africa in Saturday action of the FIA ARC Equator Rally. This ‘Sleeping Warrior’ stage will be one of the attractions of the WRC Safari Rally in Kenya in June. Above:  Kenya’s Onkar Rai splashes through at Soysambu./Picture Courtesy WRC Safari Rally Media ‘Pool’ 

From GISHINGA NJOROGE

in Naivasha, Nakuru County, Saturday

IT is the second and final day of the African Rally Championship (ARC) Rally in Naivasha, Kenya; local ace Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo is well poised to win, beating tough opponents from countrymen to visiting South African, Rwandan and Ugandan entries.

But for all, including drivers and passionate fans, the Equator Rally is a rehearsal for eagerly awaited World Rally Championship (WRC) Safari Rally in Kenya between June 24-27.

The Safari will be run in the same region that the Equator Rally is on: Naivasha, Nakuru County on the floor of the Africa’s Great Rift Valley is a place of world fame. Nostalgia here is themed around the “Happy Valley” of old; factually and romantically captured by some of Kenya’s best published literature – Karen Blixen (‘Out of Africa’), Beryl Markham (‘West with the Night’), James Fox (‘White Mischief’), Elspeth Huxley (‘Flame Trees of Thika’) and Errol Tzerbinski (‘The life and Death of Lord Errol’).

Hugh George Cholmondeley, 5th Baron Delamere, now 87, stills live here and it is his extensive Soysambu and Elmentaita estates  – of wildlife sanctuaries, ranching and extensive farming – that he has availed to the motorsport fraternity as a “Happy field of play”.

And in fact, agribusiness man ‘Flash’ Tundo, 47, today’s Equator Rally top on the leaderboard is a bosom friend of the Delameres. He is motoring on very familiar grounds.

The Equator Rally is,  and Safari will be, also on other expansive properties owned by huge moneyed-Kenyan and foreign magnates including Kedong’, Loldia, Chui Lodge and Malewa. The Safari scene of the “finish”, will be Hell’s Gate, is a national Government property managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service.

The Equator Rally has never before experienced such attention. It is currently top of the agenda on all Kenyan media platforms. Yesterday, President Uhuru Kenyatta, on a return from a national event in Gilgil, further up the road, ‘helicoptered’ down into Soysambu to happily watch the Equator Rally. For the past two and a half years, President Kenyatta has personally been in the forefront engaging the FIA (International Automobile Federation) to grant back the Safari the WRC status it lost in 2002. That now is done dusted and the competition everyone in Kenya is looking forward to is: “Our boys and girls v Theirs (foreign) in June.

Kenyan and other African drivers will start at huge disadvantage in the quest for Safari’s to placings. The WRC teams – Toyota, Hyyndai and Ford – have incredibly superior cars. How these fair in the punshing Safari is the captivating feature come June.

Yesterday in Naivasha, 19 of 33 entries, of men and women familiar with the conditions were eliminated from the race. They said in particular the 30km Sleeping Warrior stage is of unrivalled test: rocky, muddy, rough.

Rain and dust varied in different areas and another local, Eric Bengi said: “It challenges everybody. It may get better for the back-markers, but of now it is quite different, the wet conditions are quite challenging for the front runners …”

Local drivers focused on their plans and approach in the Equator Rally which they will no doubt adopt in Safari. Foreigners would be advised not ignore what the locals are saying. They talked mainly to television men Mike Okinyi and Sean Cardovillis as captured below:

Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo (Kenya):

Journalists asked Tundo whether it was fair to have such tough conditions. He answered:

‘This is rallying … pretty tough, pretty wet. I enjoy wet rallies. Am enjoying it, I like the new car, it’s going well and am getting a hang of it.’

Ian Duncan (Kenya), WRC Safari Rally champion 1994:

Guy Botteril, 35, (South Africa):

McCrae Kimathi, 25 (Kenya):

 

Eric Bengi, (Kenya):

Kephar Walubi (Uganda):

Tim Jessop, 47, navigator (Kenya):

-Gishinga Njoroge, Project Coordinator for WRC Safari Rally Kenya, is also a Deputy Media Officer

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