East African Safari Returns To Motorsports


Original Story July 23, 2018

The return of Kenya’s iconic Safari Rally to the FIA World Rally Championship moved a step nearer to reality. World Rally Championship Promoter signed a promotion agreement with the Kenya Government’s sports ministry with the intent return the classic African fixture to the WRC calendar in 2020. World Rally Championship Managing Director Oliver Ciesla inked the contract with Ambassador Kirimi Peter Kaberia, the principal secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Sports and Heritage, and Phineas Kimathi, chief executive of the World Rally Championship Safari Rally Project, in the presence of FIA president Jean Todt. 

“This agreement reflects our determination to restore a legendary rally to the championship and reinstate Africa to the top table of world rallying after an absence of more than a decade,” said Ciesla. The Safari, which last featured in the WRC in 2002, will run as a candidate event in 2019 for observation by the FIA and WRC Promoter. Subject to it achieving high-level standards in key areas such as safety and organization, WRC Promoter intends to propose the Safari’s inclusion in the World Rally Championship for an initial three-year period from 2020 to 2022. The candidate event is expected to be held in March or April. The timing will be finalized once the dates for the 2019 calendar have been confirmed, allowing World Rally Championship team representatives to attend. Ciesla was a guest at the 2018 running of the event, which was based in Nairobi and formed a round of the African and Kenyan championships. “It has long been a key part of the calendar development strategy to take the WRC back to Africa and fulfill the dreams of our fans to restore this mythical event,” Ciesla said. “A truly global championship requires a presence in the world’s second largest continent and the Kenyan Government has made a huge commitment to reestablish the Safari to its former glory. 

“This is a modern-era Safari. Traditional open-road competitive sections have been replaced by smoother special stages in private estates and conservancies and a comprehensive safety plan is in place to support a rally organized to the current WRC format. “That doesn’t mean the challenge is diminished. The gravel roads are demanding and we can also look forward to striking images of African wildlife and stunning landscapes.” Kimathi is an experienced Safari competitor and welcomed Mr. Todt to Nairobi for the opening of the project’s headquarters earlier this year. The government has pledged a substantial budget towards the rally and president Uhuru Kenyatta has emphasized his support as part of Kenya’s strategy to promote tourism, culture and heritage. “Our government is very committed to the Safari Rally and we’ll do everything in our power to make sure this great event is brought back to the WRC,” said Ambassador Kaberia. “This signing is a major milestone and a day we have looked forward to for a very long time. Arriving at this point is a great pleasure. “There remains a lot of work to be done and we will collaborate closely with all parties ahead of next year’s candidate rally to show that Kenya is ready and capable to deliver what is expected.” 

The Safari was first held in 1953 as a celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and covered Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika (now Tanzania). Arduous conditions and long competitive sections earned it the status as the World Rally Championship’s toughest fixture and one of the world’s most famous motorsport events. 

Americans Bill Stroppe and Don Francisco participate

Ford started campaigning and selling cars under the Total Performance theme when Bill Stroppe already embodied the philosophy of racing in all conceivable forms. On his own, he raced in the SCCA (and won a championship in 1952 in a Mercury flathead-powered Kurtis 500S) and crewed for cars at Indy. He participated in the Mobilgas Economy Runs in the early 1950s, and convinced Ford to provide a full team of Lincolns for the 1952 to 1954 Carreras Panamericana. His effort paid off when Lincolns took the top three spots in the 1952 and 1953 editions of that race. 

After the accidental death of Clay Smith in 1954, Stroppe continued to run Lincoln-Mercury's West Coast racing efforts on his own (including the East African Safaris), and at about the same time, he switched his focus from racing Lincolns to racing Mercurys, and from preparing cars for road racing (Mexican authorities canceled La Carrera Panamericana before the 1955 race) to preparing cars for stock car racing.

Stroppe weathered the 1957 to 1963 ban on factory racing involvement with a number of preoccupations, including the development of police packages for Mercurys, a brief stint with Autolite's racing program and an even briefer stint with Chevrolet. But when Mercury pulled out of stock car racing for good in 1964, Ford paired him with the Holman-Moody duo, a partnership that led to Stroppe's involvement with the GT-40 at Le Mans and with Ford's efforts at Pikes Peak. 

During this time, the Stroppe racing flag chose Don Francisco to manage the East African Safari efforts.  Don Francisco continued a working relationship with Stroppe and the two worked together again in 1963 and 1964 preparing and testing a team of Mercury Comets. The Comets were to be entered in the 1964 East Africa Safari, “The Worlds Toughest Race.” Francisco served as the team manager on the project and had a full list of responsibilities ranging from personnel to budget and to actual vehicle building, testing and development. He traveled to Kenya twice to oversee the onsite operations and testing of the vehicles. However he left the team when Mercury upper management disregarded his recommendations regarding the shock absorbers on the rally vehicles. During the rally, all of the Comets suffered from broken shock mounts.

Todt enjoyed Safari success during his co-driving career. He finished third in 1973, the inaugural season of the World Rally Championship, alongside Ove Andersson in a Peugeot 504 and made eight starts.The rally’s service park and stages are planned around Lakes Naivasha and Nakuru, north-west of capital city Nairobi in the Great Rift Valley.

Don Francisco #1 Baja Racing Hall of Fame




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