The 2005 East African Safari Rally (1-10 December) has already attracted an entry of 35 crews representing 14 countries, with former World Rally Champions Juha Kankkunen and Stig Blomqvist currently topping the entries alongside 1994 Safari Rally winner Ian Duncan.
The event is once again set to be a classic, with the beautiful landscapes of Kenya and Tanzania creating a picture-postcard backdrop for one of the world's greatest historic rallies. The ceremonial start on Thursday 1 December will once again take place under the famous elephant tusks in Mombasa, with crews overnighting in the Leisure Lodge Hotel on the idyllic Diani Beach on the shores of the Indian Ocean.
Competitive action gets underway on Friday, with the crews heading straight into Tanzania for the first competitive section in the notorious Usumbara Mountains. Uncharacteristically smooth roads lead to the old slave trading town of Bagamoyo before the convoy heads to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, for the overnight halt. On Saturday, the rally follows the same route back through the Usumbara Mountains and takes in two competitive sections alongside a dry river bed and across the semi-desert area of the Masai steppes, where warriors armed with spears protect large herds of cattle from hungry lions.
From the overnight halt in the luxurious Ngurdoto Hotel, just outside Arusha, Sunday's route takes the crews to the lower slopes of the spectacular snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain and a photographer's dream. From here, the rally heads back to Kenya and the Selenkei area, where animals roam in their thousands and provide classic East African scenery. If, however, it rains, the crews will get their first taste of the famous black cotton soil; a sticky soil that has brought many rallies to a total standstill. After two long sections, the city of Nairobi then hosts a short special stage and the overnight halt.
Day four includes a long and dusty competitive section down the side of the spectacular Rift Valley escarpment, behind the Ngong Hills and where wildlife is prolific. Crews then take in another two competitive sections over the volcanic soil of the Rift Valley before arriving at the Masai Game Reserve. The deluxe Mara Simba Lodge, which overlooks the hippo-filled Talek River, hosts the overnight halt.
The fifth leg, on Tuesday 6 December, provides a welcome rest day and while some will spend hours re-preparing their cars for the rigours to follow, many will be lured by balloon safaris and the prospect of getting up close to the 'Big Five'; elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and cheetah.
After a well-earned rest, Wednesday's route looks set to be a long and testing one. Competitive sections take the convoy across the Rift Valley and up its steep slopes to 2,700 metres before arriving at Du Toits Farm, 15 kilometres outside Eldoret. Here, crews will enjoy a luxury camp and the camaraderie associated with outdoor living, camp fires and bar-b-ques.
On Thursday 8 December, the route moves from Eldoret and immediately descends into the Kerio Valley, across its floor and up the other side, past Kabarnet and onto the spectacular Lake Baringo. From here, the longest competitive section of the rally takes competitors across the elephant-filled Laikipia Plains and on to Nanyuki where the Mount Kenya Safari Club will host weary crews.
The penultimate day of competition on Friday kicks off with an 80 kilometre section in the highlands and then moves into semi-desert around Kitui and across the Yatta Plateau, the world's longest lava flow. The town of Voi and the health spa resort at the Wildlife Lodge host the overnight halt and, as it overlooks the Tsavo East Game Reserve, animals should be in abundance.
The famous Taita Hills provide the final sting in the tail for the remaining crews. These roads have been used for many years in the Safari Rally and will take the competitors over a twisty string of hairpins on narrow roads cut into the side of the hills before descending to the Taru Desert. After crossing the Shimba Hills, the route heads down to the Kenya coast and the finish on the white sands of Diani Beach.
The 2005 East African Safari Rally, which has been scheduled outside the international rally calendar and during one of the most beautiful months in East Africa, promises to deliver yet more stunning and memorable action, underlining its status as one of the greatest classic car rallies of the modern era.