Nineteen years later, one of the crown jewels of the FIA World Rally Championship is back in business as Nairobi and Naivasha host an undoubtedly adrenaline-fueled Africa adventure.
The old safari has evolved to match today’s WRC, of course, but its character remains on the 2021 menu with challenging rocky roads, stunning postcard scenery and exotic wildlife.
And although June marks the end of the rainy season in Kenya, everyone should be prepared for unpredictable weather that can turn dry and dusty trails into sticky mud baths in minutes.
Ahead of the sixth round of the 2022 season next week, let’s turn back the clock to remember some of the features of Safari that put it at the top of the winning charts for every manufacturer.
Video: Safari Rally Kenya most unforgettable moments
Grueling, exhausting, punishing, arduous – there is a long list of similar adjectives that don’t do the safari justice just yet, but the 1977 event was a solo effort.
Seven of the 10 longest WRC races in history took place in Kenya, crowned by the 1977 rally, which put the world’s rally stars to the test over 5949 km.
Every kilometer from the start in Nairobi to the finish in the Kenyan capital was competitive and it turned out to be the wettest safari ever. Sections of more than 100 km were covered in deep, stuck mud and flooding extended hundreds of meters.
Only 12 of the 61 starters crossed the finish line and the top 10 were spanned by the little thing of 16 hours …
The conditions were so demanding that planned four-hour rest breaks were often shortened to an hour while the crews were pushed, pulled and lifted out of mud holes and torrents by enthusiastic helpers at the roadside.
2. Open roads
Incredibly, the safari was fought over roads that stayed open from start to finish.
Competitors who drove at full throttle had to look out for matatus (buses) going about their business, with locals literally getting stuck inside and outside. One could not imagine a more unsuitable sight.
In addition, the spectators who venture into the bush in their often “tired” vehicles to see the annual Easter spectacle, and it is easy to understand why an extra pair of eyes would have been welcome. Speaking of ……
3. Eye to the sky
The participants were assisted by their own airborne spotter crew, which flew right in front of them. An open radio between the helicopter and the rally car enabled the spotter to warn drivers of dangers lurking on the road as they flash through tiny villages deep in the wilderness.
It wasn’t just motorized hazards. The diversity of Kenyan wildlife has achieved international fame, and zebras, antelopes, wildebeests, and even giraffes have often wandered the streets close enough to catch a glimpse of what’s going on, but far enough away not to endanger themselves.
Not that the spotters took a risk….
• Full coverage of the Safari Rally Kenya will be available on WRC + All Live Here, including every stage broadcast as well as important interviews, features and expert analyzes from the service park.