The rallying season once again proved nerve-wrecking with Tapio “Flying Finn” Laukkanen making history as the first foreign driver to win the Kenya National Rally Championship. Meanwhile, over the years, there has been talks of how the Safari Rally could make a return to World Rally Championships.
This talk become a near reality when the International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Jean Todt visited Kenya on Jamhuri Day to give the country the support it needed to have Safari back on the WRC fold by 2019.
The season also saw the 2012 Kenyan Division II Champion Don Smith conquer the continent, winning the coveted African Rally Championship title.Smith, navigated by his long-standing navigator Bob Kaugi, took over ARC honours from Kisumu’s Jaspreet Chatthe keeping the coveted title in Kenya for the second year running.
Smith participated in all rounds of ARC including the season opening Cote d’Ivoire Bandana Rally, Sasol Rally in South Africa, Zambia International Rally, the crowd-pulling Pearl of Africa Uganda Rally and the Mountain Gorilla Rally of Rwanda.
Back home, Tapio, a former Britain and Finland rally champion, in a Subaru R4 machine, was too hot for Kenya drivers as the Finn brought back the memories of the past Safari Rally by fellow countrymen Juha Kankunnen, Hannu Mikkola, Ari Vatanen and Tommi Makinen.
Tapio could only settle third as a series of punctures ruined his dream for his maiden Safari Rally as Jaspreet Chatthe tossed to his second consecutive Safari navigated by Gugu Panesar.
Tapio had earlier delivered a stunning first round victory in Kajiado, beating the dare-devil Ian Duncan by a massive 1.30 minutes margin in the long stage.
Kisumu was such an embarrassing outing for Tapio as the Flying Finn returned 14th as Baldev Chager navigated by Ravi Soni in a Mitsubishi Evolution 10 won the event, ending a 19-year hiatus, since 1998 when he graduated from Clubman’s to KNRC.
Chager later conceded that Tapio was in a class of his own where local bigwigs struggled to match his ultra-modern top-of-the-range machines. Tapio won in Kajiado, Wundanyi, Eldoret and Nanyuki.
Another outstanding driver in the season was Rajbir Rai, son of the legendary Sarbi Rai.
At some point, frustration had took toll on Rajbir who announced his retirement after Eldoret in October with his Ford Fiesta R5 failing to master the local terrain.
But Rajbir made a stunning comeback winning the last two rallies.
The going wasn’t that rosy to multiple KNRC champions Ian Duncan and Carl Tundo who came through empty handed in the season.
Tundo retired on the penultimate Kitengela Rally driving Onkar Rai’s Evo 10.
In the Guru Nanak, Tundo drove the Triumph TR7 which he was testing for the Top Fry Rift Valley 1000 Classic Rally. The inaugural Rift Rally attracted quite a number of foreigners including Geoff Bell of South Africa but it was Raaji Singh Bharij who had the last laugh in his Ford Escort.
Duncan dominated Kisumu Rally when Tapio ran into gremlins but threw in the towel after he was taken ill after the first loop.
Todt, during his visit, said Kenya must fulfill the required standards before Safari Rally can revert to WRC in 2019.
That Kenya has to respect the new standards that FIA has put in place where the competition has to be reduced from long distances covering 3,500 kilometres over three days to manageable distances.