#Kenyan crews dominate the Balkan Classic Rally

The #EastAfricanSafariClassicRally News Updates

Four Kenyan crews in top top five on Bulgarian marathon

Welcome to the latest Safari Classic Rally newsletter, with news form the Balkans, where Kenyan crews dominated the final result.
Kenyan crews dominate the Balkan Classic Rally
Kenya was well represented on the podium at the recent Balkan Classic Rally, where the Safari-entered Porsche 911s of Baldev Chager/Ravi Soni and Onkar Singh Rai/Gareth Dawe finished second and fourth after a dramatic last day.

Singh Rai/Dawe began the last day in second position, but a gearbox failure on the final stage appeared to put them out. Help soon arrived in the shape of Chager/Soni, who got their teammates to the finish, losing their inherited second place and slipping to fourth, promoting Kenya’s Wissanji and Slatch up to third. As the podium awards were distributed, Singh Rai handed his award to Chager, closing the circle in a show of true sportsmanship.

“The story of such fierce competitors helping each other to finish the rally and trading trophies on the podium is a shining example of the wonderful sportsmanship that Kenya is famous for,” said a delighted Raju Kishinani, director of the Safari Classic Rally. “Safari Rally history and all of Kenyan sport is rich with such displays, so we are proud to see our compatriots continue that legacy.

“We expect all of these teams to be highly competitive on this year’s Safari Classic Rally and look forward to cheering them off at the start in Mombasa on November 23. We have spent months planning a new Safari Classic route through Kenya and Tanzania, so we’ll give them a marathon rally to remember!”

Photo by Actiongraphers | www.actiongraphers.com

Mason claims Top Ten finish in Bulgaria
Staying with news from the Balkans, Safari Classic Rally veteran, Britain’s Nick Mason, claimed a top ten finish in Bulgaria in his Datsun 240Z. Partnered by Peter Smith, the duo delivered a solid performance in the event’s only Z-car on a testing Safari precursor.

Nick has competed in every EASR from 2007 using the very same car – a 1970 Datsun 240Z – and has finished them all. “I have had three different navigators, one of my service guys has been with me for four events and the Toyota Landcruiser we use for support has completed all five.

“Our first Safari Classic was a big learning experience. The car broke every day, so all of us had to work well into the night to ensure we were ready to start the next day on time. I came home with so much knowledge and experience, and put it to use rebuilding the car myself; creating something that I knew could withstand the demands of Safari, but also engineering solutions that would be easier to repair or replace after damage.

“I have always received great warmth, hospitality and help from the wonderful people we have met throughout Kenya. My love for the people, combined with the amazing scenery we experience on every Safari Classic route, makes the lure of East Africa irresistible.”
Photo by Paolo Baraldi from the 2017 Balkan Classic Rally

Kenyan-built Porsche 911 enters Safari
Popular Kenyan driver, Raaji Bharij, and partner, Rajay Sehmi, have joined the entry list for the 2017 Safari Classic Rally with a homebuilt Porsche 911.

Thought to be the first ever 100% Kenyan-built classic Porsche rally challenger, the 911 was scratch-built by Sehmi in Kilimani, Nairobi. Bharij takes up the story:

“The 2015 Safari Classic was the first Classic we tackled and it was a great experience: incredible competition, adventure and camaraderie. We achieved all of our goals: winning our class with a top ten finish and being the first ‘non Porsche’ on the finishers list.

“From there, we started discussing our next Safari Classic and what was needed to achieve a better finish. The idea was born to build a Porsche: the ultimate tool for the long, high-speed stages. Putting this project together has been a dream come true for Rajay.”

Sehmi’s 911 began life as a Targa: a convertible Porsche with a folding centre roof panel. The car was bought locally and then strengthened and converted to a rally car. Spares have come from all over the world, but primarily the UK and America. Rebuilding key components was all done in-house.

“Having no roof has presented some challenges,” admits Rajay. “Porsche parts are not cheap, so our testing budget has been limited. Our first real test was the Dar es Salaam Rally, where the front arms failed within a few kilometres. That put us out of the rally, but taught us a valuable lesson. Thereafter, we performed route-opening duties and the car ran well for the rest of the event.

“Since then, our testing has focused on understanding the suspension, developing the setup and familiarisation with the gearing and handling, which is completely different to an Escort. One must be super-aggressive with the Ford, but the Porsche requires a lot more respect. Making final improvements will allow time for only one more test, so we will have to make that count.”

“The limited budget and lack of development time meant we were not able to fit power steering,” says Bharij. “I am already starting to regret this, for it would save a lot of energy on a marathon rally. My plan is to get as strong as I can, so I have power steering in my arms rather than the car!"

Learn more about Rajay Sehmi & Raaji Bharij
Rajay Sehmi and Raaji Bharij
Three questions with Raaji Bharij (above, right)

How did your rallying career begin?

I started rallying in my dad’s Alfa Romeo Alfetta. Getting the opportunity to drive my dad’s car with his support taught me a lot about preparation, set up and the work that really goes into doing a rally, including loading and logistics.

I also learned a great deal about the mechanical side, which is invaluable in classic rallying. When a driver is driving a car he knows inside out, it is easier to conserve the car when necessary. Getting to the finish is always the main thing.

So your dad was a rally driver – what about the rest of the family?

My grandfather was a top speedway rider in Kenya. Dad rallied the Alfa through the 1980s and my uncle started rallying a Ford Escort, eventually moving to a Mitsubishi. My elder cousin brother rallied an Alfasud for a while, and another cousin, Jas, is a top Quattro Charge competitor. Motorsport is truly in our family.

Is it true that you started your career alongside Rajay?

This is correct! I was a hotheaded youngster, so it was decided to put a more experienced navigator with me to rein me in. Rajay and I really get along in and out of the car, which is very important. In our first rally, we won the Pirelli Star in the ARC Safari Rally, but due to various commitments we only got back together as a team much later with the East African Safari Classic Rally project.

About Rajay Sehmi

Rajay has enjoyed several Safari Rally adventures from the co-driver’s seat, including alongside Raju Patti in a Toyota Corolla, with Diamond Lalani in a Toyota Land Cruiser and partnering Shahid Essaji in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4.

Rajay is a three-time Kenyan Clubman Rally Champion and navigated serial Kenyan champion, Baldev Chager, in a Subaru Legacy through 1997. After taking a break from rallying, he returned as a driver in 2008, buying a Subaru and bringing Aslam Khan in as co-driver for the Guru Nanak Rally, where the pair finished seventh overall.

Team Sponsors: Intra Africa Assurance

Bharij and Sehmi enjoyed an excellent Safari debut in 2015, claiming a class win and a terrific sixth overall in their Ford Escort rally car. The result brought success even after the flag, garnering the duo a new sponsor for this year’s event: Intra Africa Assurance.

"As longstanding supporters of local motorsports, we are proud to be associated with Raaji and Rajay and their magnificent record to date,” said Muthoni Gacheche of Intra Africa. “Safari Classic Rally is the world’s toughest rally, so it is exciting to support such a competitive pairing."

Fabrizia Pons returns to Safari
Legendary Italian navigator, Fabrizia Pons, returns to Africa this year, rejoining compatriot, Gilberto Sandretto, in the cockpit of a Tuthill Porsche 911 for the 2017 Safari Classic Rally. No stranger to the wilds of East Africa, Pons will be one of the star attractions when the eighth Safari Classic Rally begins in Mombasa on November 23rd.

“Competing in the legendary Safari Rally as part of the World Rally Championship was my dream when I first started rallying,’ says Fabrizia. “Why? Because I love Africa, I love animals and I especially love Kenya.”

Fabrizia’s driving partner, Gilberto Sandretto, recently tested his Tuthill Porsche with Stig Blomqvist in Wales. Feedback from the test was good and Gilberto enjoyed being back in the car, although he confessed to missing Fabrizia alongside.

“I was supposed to attend the test too, but in the last minutes it was impossible for me,” noted Pons. “But now the days are coming down and soon we will be travelling to Africa. I can’t wait to be in Kenya and to start another Safari Classic.”

"We are excited to have Fabrizia back on this year’s Safari Classic,” said Pipi Renu, the rally’s General Manager. She is not only a jolly and enthusiastic competitor, but also level-headed in a crisis. She is known to get down to serious business in the cockpit and African rally enthusiasts always look forward to interacting with the queen of co-drivers."

Tech Focus: the return of the Datsun 160J
While the Datsun 160J is an important piece of Safari Rally history, the model has not yet emerged as a well-known Safari Classic competitor. This changes in 2017, when Kenyan-born UK resident Scott Armstrong brings his 160J to Mombasa to compete in the eighth running of our marathon event.

The power and speed of the Safari front runners is impressive to witness, but the skills and dedication involved in bringing a car like the 160J back to rallying are no less impressive. We are excited to follow Scott’s progress and that of all our competitors, wherever they are running. Here we examine what privateer Scott has managed to assemble and compare it to the all-conquering works cars from 1979 to 1982.

Nissan Works Spec

From 1970, when the Bluebird came first overall for the very first time, Datsun/Nissan dominated the Safari Rally. Following on from the Bluebird (P510) and Fairlady 240Z (HS30), in 1978 it was the turn of the Violet (PA10) to take up the challenge and it performed magnificently. From 1979 to 1982, it was the overall winner four times in a row, which was a first in the history of the Safari Rally.

The winning car in 1981 and 1982 conformed to Group 4 specification. Fitted with the LZ20B DOHC dry-sump engine, the oil tank was located in the boot. Before the Group 4 cars, the 160J PA10 Violets were built to Group 2 specification. The L20B single overhead cam engine with twin Solex carbs produced approximately 185bhp and the car weighed just 1080 kilograms.

Main photo and works car details from Nissan Heritage Collection

Scott Armstrong’s 160J (above)

"I have built my 160J Violet as close to original Group 2 spec as possible. It’s a visual copy of the 1982 winning car, but mechanically it is more the specification of the 1979/’80 cars.

"It has a 2 litre, 8-valve L20B wet sump engine with twin 40 Webers, which produces 120bhp but makes good torque. It is not powerful, that’s for sure! I do have an LZ 20B, but that is not assembled yet and I elected to go for simple reliability as it is my first Safari.

"The rest of the car is also simple. It has a H190 reinforced works axle with a 4.6 ratio. The gearbox is a close ratio works spec and heavy duty standard 240Z standard clutch. Brakes are 4-pot Sumitomo cast iron all around. I have twin facet Fuel pumps and a 120-litre tank. Suspension is standard Nismo rear dampers and front is MCA struts (these are second-hand items, used in the 2009 event on a Datsun 1200).

"Building and preparing a Safari Violet is easily one of the most difficult things I have ever done. There are nearly no parts or info available and I have had to research every part of the car and get some parts made. Very hard work! But I suppose that’s why everybody takes the easy route and goes for an Escort.

"With the car now at sea en route to Mombasa, the rally is like a rolling test session for us, as we didn’t have time to test everything properly. That is a shame but I am happy to bring the Violet back to Safari. The PA10 160J won four times in a row, making it one of the most successful Safari cars, but it has gone away un-noticed. My Safari challenge won’t be win number five, but it brings the car back to Africa. My aim is just to get to the finish!"

Official Rally Tour and Safari
The official East African Safari Classic Rally tour is an amazing opportunity to experience the awesome splendour of African landscapes and wildlife. It also affords plenty of time to watch the rally action unfolding on the world’s toughest historic motorsport event.

Few experiences compare to exploring the wilds of Kenya and Tanzania by following the legendary Safari Classic Rally through some of our planet’s most famous wildlife reserves and ecological wonders. Our official tour is a truly memorable East African experience.

Download details of the official Rally Tour and Safari here. Contact us for more information.

Send us your story

We love to hear how our competitors and their crews came to Safari and the stories of your preparations and ambitions. We look forward to sharing all photos and stories across our channels between now and the start of the rally. Send your Safari stories to media.

Download the latest rally bulletins
For those interested in attending the 2017 Safari Classic Rally or taking part in the event, there is plenty of information available to download on our website.

The full Rally Regulations and the Official Entry Form for the 2017 East African Safari Classic Rally are both available for download here.

The latest Competitor Information Updates include:

Email us with any questions regarding our rally or to discuss the 2017 event.

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