What you need to know:
- Zasada’s last rally was the 1997 Safari Rally when he finished 12th alongside his wife, Ewa, in a Mitsubishi Lancer. That was his eighth start in the Kenyan classic and his ninth will be no less competitive.
- “He is not going there just to drive through,” promised M-Sport Poland managing director Maciej Woda.
Ordinarily, a 91-year-old man would most probably be on a wheelchair, wheeling up and down corridors of a home for the elderly, with a toothless grin.
According to a United Nations Human Development Report of 2016, life expectancy in Kenya was set at an average of 63.3 years (68.7 for women and 64 for men).
It may, therefore, sound out of this world that 91-year-old Sobieslaw Zasada from Poland is not only as fit as a fiddle, but will be at the start of the WRC Safari Rally this week!
Mzee Zasada arrived in the country late last week and immediately embarked on testing his Ford Fiesta Rally3 (run by M-Sport Poland) on test grounds in Oserian, Nakuru County on Sunday.
The tests were without incident with the WRC category 2 and 3 cars feeling Kenyan terrain for the first time.
Besides Zasada, the other M-Sport Poland car on test was driven by, guess who? Zasada’s grandson Daniel Chwist!
Born on January 1, 1930, Zasada first competed in Kenya at the 1969 East African Safari Rally, and then returned to finish second in the 1972 Safari, driving a Porsche 911S, in a rally won by Hannu Mikkola.
“For his age, I give him credit. He walks even straighter than me!” observed colleague Anwar Sidi, Kenya’s most celebrated motorsports photojournalist who is handling media safety issues at the WRC Safari Rally.
Anwar, along with Clerk of the Course Gurvir Bhabra and his deputies George Mwangi and Nazir Yakub, are credited with having crafted what promises to be a most challenging route as the Safari Rally celebrates its return to the global calendar after 19 years.
Anwar snapped his Canon away as Zasada cruised through the test roads like a 20-year-old driver. Indeed, he will be up against 20-something year olds, including Toyota Gazoo’s Kalle Rovanpera from Finland, born on January 10, 2000, when Mzee Zasada was already 70!
Zasada says he’s always happy to be in Kenya.
“The Safari brings in a lot of people to Kenya and that’s one of the reasons I love the country. I’m happy to be back in Kenya,” said Mzee Zasada on the sidelines of the Oserian weekend tests.
The veteran of Porsches, Mercedes Benz 280Es Mitsubishi Evos, now Ford, will become the oldest competitor to start a World Rally Championship round in championship history.
Zasada’s last rally was the 1997 Safari Rally when he finished 12th alongside his wife, Ewa, in a Mitsubishi Lancer. That was his eighth start in the Kenyan classic and his ninth will be no less competitive.
“He is not going there just to drive through,” promised M-Sport Poland managing director Maciej Woda.
“Sobielsaw has great memories of the Safari and wanted to go back to the rally to see what it looks like now.”
During a long and distinguished career, he won the European Rally Championship three times in 1966, 1967 and 1971 and finished runner-up on three more occasions.
Much of his career pre-dated the launch of the FIA World Rally Championship in 1973 and the holder of the European title was regarded as the de facto world champion.
“He was thinking about doing the Safari last year but obviously it didn’t happen due to Covid-19. He is a very active person and fit for his age so I really hope everything will go well for him,” Woda added.
The pair have a long history. As a teenager growing up in Poland with his sights set on a motor racing future, Woda tried to contact Zasada, who went on to become one of the country’s most successful businessmen after his driving career ended.
“I kept telephoning him twice a day, every day, for five months,” Woda recalls.
Compiled from WRC.com resources