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New Safari Rally basks in old glories.

The 2003 East African Safari Rally travelled back in time to replicate the sense of adventure of the original 1953 Coronation Safari Rally. The sense of nostalgia was enhanced when only pre-1971 cars were allowed to enter. The outstanding success of the event came as a very welcome shot in the arm for east African tourism. MILAN VESELY reports.

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The 1953 Coronation Safari Rally placed East Africa squarely on the international 'places to visit' map. Now, with its resurrection as the 2003 East African Safari Rally the new 5,000 km road race has replicated its renowned 1950's tourism success.

The 2003 Kenya Airways East African Safari Rally held December 10 to 19 was a tough challenge for the 60 plus, pre-1971 cars that entered. Based on the original Coronation Safari--a unique event run by local enthusiasts to celebrate the ascension to the throne of England by Queen Elizabeth the Second--the rally attracted world famous drivers from around the world.

Names such as rally legend and 1979 winner Bjorn Waldegard, France's female phenomena Michele Mouton (the first woman to win a round of the World Rally Championship), Kenya's veteran Rob Collinge and even Subaru World Rally Team manager Paul Howarth all entered, with nostalgia for the 'good old days' and a sense of adventure being the predominate interest. And the event certainly lived up to its billing.

Starting from Mombasa on Kenya's famous tourist coast, the 2003 East African Safari Rally covered a route through some of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania's most beautiful scenery. During 10 days of gruelling competition the cars travelled over the nearby Taita Hills before racing on to Nanyuki at the base of Mount Kenya, Eldoret on Kenya's western plateau, the Ugandan capital of Kampala, Kenya's world famous Masaii Mara wildlife game park and finally on to Kenya's capital Nairobi. With a rest stop it then continued down to Tanzania's northern capital of Arusha, to Tanga on the Tanzanian coast before finally finishing at the Diani Beach hotel on Kenya's south coast on December 19.

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Of the more then 50 entries received by mid-November 2003, 16 were from foreign drivers and crew. As befitting the rally's sponsor Kenya Airways, all crews--and not a few cars--were transported on the airline's modern fleet of Boeing 767 aircraft. With vehicles coming from around the globe the logistics were enormous. Secondary sponsors, Minilite Wheels of the UK and WEC world-wide shipping lines added welcome financing and cars that couldn't be flown in were shipped to Mombasa port at discount rates from their various countries of origin.

Driver sponsorship also played an important part in the success of the 2003 event. Since regulations specified that only pre-1971 manufactured cars could participate, entrants had to locate suitable vehicles from the most unlikely places. Kenyan driver Rob Collinge, entered in the legendary Datsun 240Z model used by Shekhar Mehta in his past Safari wins, purchased his vehicle in Australia. Sponsorship of $12,500 from Kenyan mobile phone operator KenCell Communications was therefore vital to his participation. Speaking at the announcement of his sponsorship deal on November 18 Collinge announced on behalf of the organisers that the event had been sanctioned by the world's motor sport body, the FIA.

"We are going to stage the rally under FIA rules and regulations," Collinge said. "My car is a potential winner of the rally as it is very fast on murram roads. As every one knows it recorded victories in the Safari Rally with Shekhar Mehta behind the wheel as a works Nissan driver."

Another driver who raised considerable interest in the rally was Kenyan resident Sam Jethwa. A paraplegic from a road accident, Sam and his co-driver Tim Challen drove a 1969 Peugeot 504 to raise desperately needed funds for the National Spinal Injuries Hospital in Nairobi. A life-long motor racing fan, Sam Jethwa first got interested in rallying when his father serviced for the legendary Pat Moss and Eric Carlson when they drove Saab front-wheel drive vehicles in the Safari Rally during the 60's and 70's.

"The hospital needs a lot of financing and to help people who are less fortunate than yourself while doing something you love is also very satisfying," Tim Challen said. "The patients need a psychological boost and by competing we are hoping to get the message across to people in Africa and around the world--able-bodied and disabled alike--that even if you have a disability anything is still possible. There is life after disability!"

Commenting on the sponsorship agreement with Kenya Airways Event Director Mike Kirkland had this to say: "It is very fitting that this celebrated rally be supported by Kenya Airways under its "Pride of Africa" logo. We are commemorating the 50th anniversary by recreating the origins of the event, but as important is the fact that the rally will showcase East Africa in all its beauty to the rest of the world. As such it will hopefully revive the tourism industry to its former glory and we are extremely proud to be supported by Kenya Airways, a company pursuing world class standards of aviation efficiency and comfort."

The international rally scene is now dominated by two distinct types of events. The World Rally Championship (WRC) under the FIA Rally chairmanship of ex-Kenyan Safari Rally winner Shekhar Mehta consists of relatively short special stages strung together by long transport sections. This results in the rally cars being more like slightly detuned roadrace cars, seconds separating the stage-times of the world's top drivers. Extremely expensive to compete in, these WRC events are supported by only the wealthiest of manufacturers and with special stages predominating as the only competitive sections, the organizers are increasingly turning to tarmac roads in heavily urbanized countries for their different events.

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The increasing world-wide interest in endurance rallies such as the Paris-Dakar rally and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) Desert Challenge is a new motor sport phenomenon. Now being eyed by most auto manufacturers as the events of choice for publicity purposes, these competitions offer many advantages. Run on a yearly basis, the endurance aspect of these rallies combined with the 10 days or more of TV coverage supply a far greater, and therefore more effective, advertising platform. This is where the new East African Safari Rally is sure to score, nostalgia and the Coronation Safari's legendary reputation is bound to lead to its increasing importance in the world of endurance rallying, particularly if it encompasses a future motorcycle division such as those in both the Paris-Dakar and UAE Desert Challenge.

The 1953 Coronation Safari gained fame through its advertising the event as an "adventure." Staging the 2003 Kenya Airways Safari Rally in December--when the world's rally drivers and car enthusiasts are on vacation--was a brilliant decision by event director Mike Kirkland and his fellow enthusiasts. Guaranteeing a large foreign entry as well as a considerable number of overseas spectators, running the rally in the Christmas month provided a shot-in-the-arm for the beleaguered East African tourist industry.

As it was, Kenyan, Ugandan and Tanzanian hotels reported record foreign bookings, something that has not been seen for many years. If for no other reason then for publicity purposes, the rally should become a yearly event and the three East African governments would do well to support it out of their tourism budgets. Rarely has the tourism industry of the three East African nations been give such a perfect advertising medium. As with the 1953 event, one can only hope that the modern East African Safari Rally will go from strength to strength. Many of the overseas entrants and spectators that participated in the 2003 event certainly hope so.
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Title Annotation:Sporting Business
Author:Vesely, Milan
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Words:1276
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