Safari Rally: 555 Subaru preview

Safari Rally, 12-14 July 2002 The Event The Safari Rally of Kenya, the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, kicks off on Thursday 11 July with an 8am ceremonial start in Nairobi. 49 cars are expected to cross the start ramp...

Safari Rally, 12-14 July 2002

The Event

The Safari Rally of Kenya, the eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, kicks off on Thursday 11 July with an 8am ceremonial start in Nairobi. 49 cars are expected to cross the start ramp in this, the second of four long haul events of the season.

The African adventure is a unique event. It is the longest event of the season, with the competitive distance travelled three times the length of a European rally. It is the roughest event and requires a strong, reliable car to complete its three day battle. The rally is run at the highest altitudes of the year and very often under the hottest temperatures due to its proximity to the equator.

The rally is based in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, East Africa. It comprises three legs, 12 stages and over 1000 competitive kilometres. For the first year there will be a single service point at Suswa (85km from Nairobi) and the Rally Headquarters will be at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi. The Safari Rally is also the fifth round of the 2002 FIA Production Cup Championship.


The 555 Subaru World Rally Team will be entering Impreza WRC2002's for Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg in this year's Safari Rally. Both will be eligible to score manufacturers points for the team.

Last year's victor Tommi Makinen has a wealth of experience on the Safari Rally. Although due to the punishing nature of the event Tommi has finished just two of his six outings there, on both occasions winning the event.

Petter Solberg made his Kenyan debut on the Safari Rally in 1999, as a stand in for an injured Thomas Radstrom. He had no experience of the gruelling event, but finished in a brilliant fifth place in his Ford Focus WRC, a feat he repeated a year later with the 555 Subaru World Rally Team.

Driver Quotes

Tommi Makinen: "This will be my first Safari in the Subaru, and we've spent a lot of time at the pre-event test making sure that it is driving in the way that I want. From what we've done so far, the performance of the whole car is very good. The engine power and the tyres are especially strong. It would have been good to have more time to test, but I'm really looking forward to the start next Friday. The Safari itself is one of my favourite rallies. It is completely different to all the others and you have to take a very flexible approach. To win here you have to keep everything in one piece, not break anything and drive 100 per cent correctly. It went my way last year, so I'm hoping for a repeat next week."

Petter Solberg: "We've done a couple of days in Kenya now and I can say that car is definitely an improvement on last year. The traction is much better and the special engine, which we will be using here, is very good. Everyone in the team is working hard and concentrating on the endurance testing. The roads are extremely rough, but it's a rally that I like very much. This will be my fourth year here and I've had some good success in the past. I think the secret to a good result is driving carefully and avoiding punctures - that'll be the main factor for this rally. Phil and I have been practising our changes, and we've managed 1 minute 12 seconds in the workshop - anything under 2 minutes on the stage would be good. All the stages are new for this year, and that's a good thing, as it means fresh notes and the same starting point for everybody." The Challenge / The Car

Subaru has been a regular competitor on the Safari Rally since 1980 when the Japanese manufacturer supported entries using models like Leones, Swingbacks and Touring Wagons. However, since the formation of the Subaru World Rally Team in 1989 and the introduction of the Subaru Impreza in 1993 the team has proved to be a dominant contender in this event - arguably the toughest on the WRC calendar.

Fast, tough and reliable, the Subaru Impreza WRC2002 is the latest evolution of a car that is well suited to the rough terrain of the Safari Rally. On this year's event, the power of the cars will be complemented by the awesome driving pedigree of four-time world champion Tommi Makinen and the raw talent of one of the sports brightest ascendant stars, Petter Solberg.

In order for the Impreza WRC2002 to put in a winning performance on the tough 2002 Safari rally, it has several add on components for the unique event.

The ride height of the car is higher than on a normal gravel car and it has thicker and longer suspension to counter the devastating rock-strewn stages. The Safari is also one of two events in the season when two spare wheels are allowed to be carried in case of multiple punctures during the long sections. The Impreza will have a larger fuel tank to cope with the longer stages and road sections.

The side and rear windows are completely mirrored. This is to reflect the Kenyan sunlight to keep the car as cool inside as possible. The cars also incorporate high energy discharge lights on the wing mirrors in addition to the normal headlights. These lights are kept on all the time and make the car more visible on the stages.

'Bull bars' are added to the front of the car - a solid metal structure used to deflect any wildlife that may come into contact with the car and reduce the risk of anything getting into any components behind the bumper.

A 'snorkel' is fitted which runs from the engine to the roof. This is used to cope with the deep-water crossings, which are common on the Safari stages. The Impreza's snorkel is designed to stand up to four feet of water.

A change for the Safari event on the Impreza WRC2002 is the removal of the roof scoop, which is traditionally used as an air intake. New for the event is a more efficient internal air cooling system.

Between the Rallies - Testing

In preparation for next months Finland Rally, the 555 SWRT completed a four day test near Jyvaskyla from 24 to 27 June. Regular team drivers Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg used a Subaru Impreza WRC2002 test car, notching up a total of 893kms between them over the four days. On the Finland test, Tommi had a reason to celebrate. On 26 June it was his 38th birthday.

This week the 555 SWRT has completed a four-day test near Nairobi in preparation for the Safari Rally. Team Manager Paul Howarth explained: "We were here to carry out confirmation work of the Safari specification cars, concentrating especially on tyres, suspension, engine and transmission. The main objective was to work on the endurance levels of the car in representative conditions. We used two roads that were run as stages on the rally last year. On days one and three we used the end section of SS4 and for two and four the opening 21kms of SS3. The roads were fast and extremely rough - typical of the very roughest conditions we're expecting this year. Tommi and Kaj tested on days one and two - they gathered useful information on the ideal pace in the Impreza and covered 444kms. On Wednesday and Thursday Petter and Phil were in the car. The pair built on Tommi's experience on the same roads and covered a further 403kms. Event Timetable (Nairobi is GMT +3hrs)


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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Petter Solberg , Thomas Radstrom , Paul Howarth