What you need to know:
- It is gratifying to see the Nakuru County Governor, Lee Kinyanjui, rallying the business and hospitality community to embrace the Safari.
- In partnership with Kabarak University, Nakuru last week trained 500 students in hospitality in readiness to welcome the world.
With two world champions, an array of international professional drivers, capped by a healthy national line up in the final competitors’ entry list of the World Rally Championship (WRC) Safari Rally sinks in the realisation that after 19 years, the world still regards the Safari as the ultimate test for man and machine.
The Safari will make a majestic grand re-entry into the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) from June 21 when the Rally Week kicks off in Naivasha and the 58 drivers will begin reconnaissance or checking out the route.
This will be followed by a “shakedown” on Wednesday when the wheels of the first World Rally Car touch the Kenyan soil for the first time in nearly two decades.
The shakedown is a free press day and warm-up exercise for competitors to test their machines in rally speeds, and a feel of what to expect before the start of competition in what will be the most visually attractive WRC round, bringing in freshness and perception to help the championship breach the 1 billion cumulative annually global television viewership.
There was skepticism around the world of motorsport on whether the Safari would attract even 30 drivers.
But the 58 number surprised many considering WRC Portugal, despite being located in Europe and usually one of the more popular rallies in the world circuit, could manage only 56.
All the three manufacturer teams - Ford, Hyundai, and Toyota - will field 11 drivers in the Priority One list, supported by two cars in WR2 second category which has attracted a healthy field, all looking for valuable WRC points in this category.
Surprising, the WR2 has attracted the attention of 91-year-old Sobieslow Zasada, one of the icons of the original East African Safari Rally.
Aged old-wise, but young at heart and physically fit, Zasada has been in the world circuit long before most parents of the current crop of top drivers were born.
He made his debut in the 1969 Safari in a Porsche 911 S and left the scene a hero like no other in Safari Rally folklore with a second position in 1972, although his 1973 challenge came a cropper.
His legend will always supersede his persona as chronicled in one incident in 1972 Safari. In an all-out or for nothing battle with the eventual winner Hannu Mikkola, the Pole was always in touch, and as the cars were leaving Kampala he was only four minutes behind the leader.
And so the story which he confirmed to me in 1997 goes. He arrived at the control point almost in a dead heat with Mikkola whose navigator Gunnar Palm was rushing for his time card to be stamped closely followed by sprinting Zasada’s co-driver, Bien Marian.
Palm was the faster man. And as he entered the Ford, Zasada reacted spontaneously, taking off after Mikkola who saw the whole spectacle in amusement, setting off in a fury before he eased off, giving way for Zasada “to commit suicide”.
After sometimes, the Pole heartily patted Marian only to realise his fatal mistake, making a U-turn, effectively ending what had appeared a possible Safari victory as Mikkola extended the four minutes advantage to 28 points or 11 minutes.
He returned in 1973 without success before he resurfaced in 1997 navigated by his childhood sweetheart Ewa Zasada, his wife of 69 years. They recorded a respectable 12th position in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution out of 19 finishers.
Coincidentally, the youngest driver in the Safari is Kalle Rovanpera, the son Harri Rovanpera, second in 2001 WRC Safari driving a Peugeot 206WRC.
It is gratifying to see the Nakuru County Governor, Lee Kinyanjui, rallying the business and hospitality community to embrace the Safari. In partnership with Kabarak University, Nakuru last week trained 500 students in hospitality in readiness to welcome the world.