The East African Safari Classic Rally got underway over the weekend with local favorite Ian Duncan first off the starting ramp. This rally, often dubbed as the world’s greatest, is a modern-day replica of the once-upon-a-time World Championship event, which was raced every year over Easter, giving hundreds of volunteers in those days the opportunity to help and support a team of their choice.
The change of dates for the Easter weekend, however, eventually became an obstacle for the international rally organization, and the then Kenyan government’s failure to appreciate the PR value of keeping the event, sealed the fate of the “Safari” when it was dropped from the annual world championship race calendar.
The event back then, in the early years often including sojourns into neighboring countries Uganda and Tanzania, was one of the most grueling, but a magnet for foreign drivers wanting to match themselves and their machines against the rough tracks across unforgiving terrain. Weather also played an often crucial role as heavy rains regularly turned sections of the rally route into a mud quagmire from which few escaped unscathed.
The modern-day replica now takes place every two years and only permits those classic rally cars of the olden days to participate, again drawing in former world champions and rally greats. It was local racing legend Mike Kirkland who eventually brought the “Safari” back on the agenda and gave this event a new lease on life, albeit in a different format.
The rally, once again a crowd-puller, has been made possible by the support of many sponsors and supporters, including the government of Kenya which now sees the event as a major opportunity to generate positive publicity for the country. The sponsors, led by national airline Kenya Airways, which flew in rally cars, spare kits and crews from Europe as well as officials from South Africa, also include Sarova Hotels which has for several years now partnered with the rally organizers and Kenya Airway to make the event happen.