The 18th day of the London to Cape Town World Cup Rally was the one and only rest day, but of course it was nothing of the sort for most of the crews and even for the organisational support vehicles, which were also unable to go much further without urgent attention.
Everyone at the Nairobi Safari Park Hotel was impressed by the legendary Kenyan bush-mechanics at work, having arrived on two large trucks with full facilities and eager to get their hands dirty. But many crews were out and about tracking down suspension spares, including the leader, Andy Actman, who demonstrated how tough the roads had been by breaking the Koni Raid shocks on his Toyota Hilux.
Thursday’s route was suggested by none other than Yvonne Mehta, whose husband Shekha won the Safari Rally three times. A loop off the main road gave a couple of hours of good gravel, humped-back pipes and small bridges, washaways and gulleys, deep holes and all the rest of the makings of traditional Safari Rallying.
Those makings included a pair of giraffes loping off the track into the bush, and a bit further on gazelles, then goats, then a herd of cows, then some zebras, all of which to be told they could not qualify as spectators. Our course was remote rallying down long mostly-sandy tracks – choking dust clouds cutting visibility in the early-morning sunshine was predictable, so crews started at two-minute intervals.
Underlining just how hard African rallying really is, consider this: Steve Blunt in the Subaru, second overall, posted another good time today but in the process finished with bent front suspension after opting for a change to longer springs yesterday which proved to be too soft…the old adage, ‘if it’s not broken, why fix it’ came to the driver’s lips when recounting his problems at the Tanzania border.
Owen Turner is looking happier having received a fresh supply of shock-absorbers for his team of three MGZRs, but Jane Edgington was looking less chuffed after having a tap at the back from the faster Datsun 510 of Dave Boddy, blinded by the dust – he will re-start tomorrow higher up on safety-grounds. The plucky Maestro escaped with a broken rear light.
Friday started with a mud-bath, with all traffic pushed off the road for exclusive access by the Chinese road builders. The problem with that is that overnight rain combined with the rich red earth produces sticky mud-filled axle-clogging ruts.
First drama of the day was when the official diversion was blocked by a bus meeting a truck with both stuck fast. Some nimble footwork saw the word passed down the line to get up onto the new road – some got the message, mostly two-wheel-drive cars, and everyone made it to the first time-control. The road quickly climbs to 1500ft, it’s slippery in places with full-on hairpin bends thrown in, just like the old photos of the Stelvio Pass in Italy (pics to follow, we hope).
Today saw some intensive competition on a 100km World Cup Section – the Porsche 911 of car 45 made it look easy completing the day penalty free. Joost Van Cauweberge in his green polo shirt and shorts turns a mountain climb and a string of time-controls through thick vegetation into a run to the shops.
At the head of the field both Andy Actman and Steve Blunt dropped a couple of minutes so they maintain their positions.
Friday’s run was 424km, but as the crews have all gathered by now, this even just doesn’t let up. Tomorrow is a 595km marathon from Dodoma to Mbeya, featuring another World Cup Section and a rocky 15km climb to Ifiga summit, 4000ft above.
The leaderboard is understandably showing a preponderance of tough 4×4 vehicles, with five of the top ten in off-roaders, plus the Subaru Impreza of Bob Duck. But the Belgian 911 (car 45) is now up in fourth despite that penalty and the plucky 914 and MG Maestro remain a highly creditable seventh and ninth respectively. It’s hard to see any of the remaining days passing without some major shake-ups, such are the conditions and demands on cars and crews, but in just nine days we’ll know who made it Cape Town in top spot.
Top ten overall
1 14 1h 07m 37 1 E Andy Actman GB Andy Elcomb GB 2010 Toyota Hilux 3000
2 23 1h 10m 46 2 E Steve Blunt GB Bob Duck GB 2006 Subaru Impreza 1994
3 18 2h 51m 21 3 E Rod Taylor GB Ian Morgan GB 2010 Toyota Hilux 2982
4 45 2h 53m 39 1 D Joost Van Cauwenberge B Jacques Castelein B 1973 Porsche 911 3000
5 26 3h 01m 30 4 E David Tomlin GB Nicholas Adcock GB 2003 Land Rover Defender TD5 2495
6 33 3h 11m 10 1 B Owen Turner GB Matthew Fowle GB 2002 MG ZR 1589
7 35 3h 26m 19 1 C Alastair Caldwell GB Hayden Burvill AUS 1968 Porsche 912 2000
8 47 3h 34m 27 5 E Patrick Beckers B Egfried Depoorter B 1992 Toyota Landcruiser 80 4200
9 15 3h 46m 26 2 B Jane Edgington GB Gillian Cotton GB 1986 MG Maestro 1598
10 1 4h 26m 19 2 C Richard Atherton GB Rob Henchoz GB 1970 Volvo 144 1998