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Legend Michelle Mouton in Monday to preview Safari Rally preps

KENYA’S Safari Rally maintains focus on its bid to return to the world championship calendar in 2020 and work on this year’s candidate event edition continues unabated. The latest flurry of action is a one week working visit, beginning on Monday of the FIA (International Automobile Federation) safety delegate.

Michelle Mouton visits Nairobi pre-view driver and spectator safety outlay for the entire route of the Safari Rally — on July 5-7 — a round of the African Rally Championship (ARC) and a showcase for Kenya’s bid to return the Safari in the World Rally Championship (WRC) last occupied by the iconic Safari between 1973 and 2002.

TOP: Michelle Mouton in her early motor rallying days; the closest woman to winning a World Rally Championship. Above: Michelle Mouton (right) at WRC Germany Rally last year with George Mwangi, Deputy Clerk of Course WRC Candidate Event Safari Rally (2019)

TOP: Michelle Mouton in her early motor rallying days; the closest woman to winning a World Rally Championship. Above: Michelle Mouton (right) at WRC Germany Rally last year with George Mwangi, Deputy Clerk of Course WRC Candidate Event Safari Rally (2019)

Mouton is scheduled to review the draft itinerary of this year’s Safari Rally in Nairobi and Nakuru counties. She will be driven over the entire route to evaluate the safety of drivers and fans and offer recommendations where and where necessary for alterations. Her report back to FIA obviously hinge the Safari closer or not to their dream of returning to the WRC fold next year.

The Safari bid is a Government of Kenya sponsored initiative dubbed the WRC Safari Rally Project; the country hoping to gain in wide international relation in tourism and commerce. In operation for past 16 months, the Safari Rally Project headquarters at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, has been a hive of activity.

Michelle Mouton (right) and Fabrizia Pons with their Audi Quatro in the Safari heydays

Michelle Mouton (right) and Fabrizia Pons with their Audi Quatro in the Safari heydays

Apart from the route planning around Naivasha in the Rift Valley, the latest engineering works are the preparation of a spectacular rally circuit within the acreage of the vast Kasarani complex. This will be scene of the spectator-friendly opening ‘super special spectator stage’ of the Safari. It will be one of Mouton’s attention to safety when she inspects its plan next week. Perhaps the largest crowds of spectators will be expected at this section both in this year’s Safari and in 2020 if the Safari returns to the WRC.

Meanwhile Mouton’s visit will be considered nothing less than a big boost to Safari Rally WRC return plans. Massive world attention due to Mouton will be obvious. Michelle Mouton arrived in the World Rally Championship with a bang and erupted in 1982 at the height of the golden era of the Group ‘B’ cars; fire spitting monsters which were too fast to drive. Soon they started killing drivers and were banned from racing by FISA in 1986.

The WRC Safari Rally Project chief executive officer Phineas in a recent working conference ... work at headquarters includes route preparations in Naivasha and a special circuit at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani

The WRC Safari Rally Project chief executive officer Phineas in a recent working conference … work at headquarters includes route preparations in Naivasha and a special circuit at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani

But she was in the mix in 1982 and stamped her authority comprehensively after finishing second behind Walter Rohrl of Germany in the World Championship in the monstrous Audi Quattro.

Here in Kenya the Frenchwomen teamed up with 1972 East African Safari Rally winner, Finland’s Hannu Mikola and Kenya’s Vic Preston Junior in the Audi team. Those who watched her in action confessed of watching a fearless driver, navigated by Italian Fabrizia Pons . They were a rarity and their display, a combination of rare talent. They finished third overall behind Mikola and winner Ari Vatanen in an Opel Ascona.

In 2003 East African Classic she teamed up with Anna Goni in a Ford Escort MK1. Now on her she will be very different and special assignment. She is the WRC Safety Delegate of the FIA and visits WRC events to evaluate the safety aspect of an event. She covers every centimeter of a rally route head of the start and gives her recommendations.

Clerk of the Course Gurvir Babra ... Michelle Mouton will be driven over all his route in Naivasha and at Kasarani circuit

Clerk of the Course Gurvir Babra … Michelle Mouton will be driven over all his route in Naivasha and at Kasarani circuit

“If I am driving, I am not looking and I am here to look and decide where is safe and who is safe, using my experiences from when I was a driver, as well as checking the safety plan is in place,” she was quoted saying recently WRC Australia Rally.

In Kenya she will be driven through the proposed rally route, paying attention to the safety of fans and drivers, says WRC Safari Rally project chief executive officer CEO Phineas Kimathi.

“Safety is the highest priority of the FIA. This has resulted in rallies now done in completely closed roads unlike the Safari of the past and Kenya must conform. A positive ‘tick’ by Mouton is work in progress in achieving WRC status, Kimathi added.

Management. staff and volunteers at the WRC Safari Rally Project at Moi International Sports Center, Kasarani during a recent visit by WRC experts from Britain and Finland

Management, staff and consultants at the WRC Safari Rally Project at Moi International Sports Center, Kasarani during a recent visit by WRC experts from Britain and Finland

“Her input is very important as it will help Kenya organize a successful Candidate event, final dry run ahead of a possible 2020 WRC.”

Meanwhile the WRC Safari Rally Project CEO on Thursday met Government officials from line ministries that have an inter-link in the staging of international events of the nature of the Safari. This also included the Government’s set up Sports Fund Board.

The yet to be disbursed funding for the WRC Safari Rally Project has curtailed speed to implement requirements of the FIA and the WRC. But the Safari secretariat said they hoped this will be smoothed out as soon as possible.

Born and brought up close to the Maritime Alps southern France, Mouton, 67, grew up in snow sport, an aspect which aided her agility, calculation and reflexes plus fearlessness.

From 1976-1984 Mouton was in sync with self and machines she drove, notably the Group ‘B’ Audi and Peugeot. She won four WRC rallies and climbed the podium nine times including the Safari Rally. She won the highly competitive German National Championship in 1986.

The early 1980s car manufacturers were given the leeway to interpret technical aspect of automotive engineering. Audi gifted rallying with a 4WD saloon. Others followed cue and before long cars with power in excess of 450 emerged.

The year 1982 showcased Mouton’s exceptional talent and bravery as she finished second overall in the championship, losing to legendary German maestro, Walter Röhrl, after crashing on the penultimate event in (Africa) Cote d’Ivoire.

Her all-round superiority happened in the United States in the 1985 Pikes Peak hill climb, held annually in Colorado for a distance of about 20km, totalling 157 corners. She occasionally still drives Audi S1 Quattros at select heritage events.

In 1988, Mouton co-founded the international motorsport event Race of Champions with Fredrik Johnsson, in memory of Henri Toivonen whose Lancia Delta crashed in Italy signaling the end of Group ‘B’ era.

In 2010, Mouton became the first president of the FIA’s Women and Motor Sport Commission.  She stated that “for many years people have asked me why there have been no women following in my footsteps. I really hope the Commission can help answer that question and that we can attract and support women in all areas of our sport.”

Mouton was appointed FIA’s manager in the World Rally Championship in 2011. She also serves in the nomination committee of the Rally Hall of Famer.   In March 2012, she recused herself after becoming a candidate for nomination. Mouton was inducted into the Hall of Fame along with two-time world champion Carlos Sainz.

-Additional reporting by Media Dept, WRC Safari Rally Project

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