The Safari Rally is like no other event in the FIA World Rally Championship, the length and wild nature of the competitive sections, roughness and huge time differences between rivals making it a totally unique experience. It is for these reasons,...
The Safari Rally is like no other event in the FIA World Rally Championship, the length and wild nature of the competitive sections, roughness and huge time differences between rivals making it a totally unique experience. It is for these reasons, and the total unpredictability of the outcome, that perseverance, strength and ingenuity hold the key to success and, despite dropping so much time yesterday, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart drivers Alister McRae and David Senior are currently positioned in the points for Mitsubishi with three sections remaining. The British pair are ninth overnight, sixth of the registered crews.
The second leg of the Safari Rally took just 29 survivors from the original 48 competitors back to the rally's base at Suswa for the longest day of the event, scheduled to cover five sections and 410.47 competitive kilometres. Each of the sections was a repetition of yesterday's action, albeit in the opposite direction, with an additional run at the Kedong-Ngema section. Overnight rain altered the nature of the first section and, as low cloud enveloped the Mau Escarpment, section six had to be cancelled because the safety spotter helicopters were unable to take to the skies. But, for the rest of the day, hot, dusty and rocky conditions posed a significant challenge, and Rally Headquarters was a welcome sight for the crews when they returned at 19:45 hrs this evening after more than 15 hours on the road.
McRae and co-driver David Senior were ninth fastest through the opening 73.93 kilometre run from Kedong to Ngema. "No problems at all for us," commented Alister, who passed a giraffe in the section. "There had been some overnight rain which resulted in some tricky muddy parts, particularly near the start, and that obviously changed the nature of the road a bit." Despite the cancellation of the following section, the crew continued to push hard, judging their pace against the ever-changing conditions. After losing time yesterday, the British pair could only hope the battles ahead resulted in mechanical problems for their rivals and their determination rewarded them by the end of the day, despite the suspension top mount breaking in CS8.
"Something didn't feel right at the back-end of the car at the start of the section," said Alister. "About 15 kilometres in it felt like a rear damper had broken and we dropped another 13 minutes. But when the team checked the components back in service, it was actually a broken top mount. It started to get dark in the last section which was another new experience for me in Africa and visibility was quite difficult. With the time loss, there's no sense in us pushing too hard tomorrow, but we need to find a reasonable pace and drive for a finish in the points. It just goes to show it's worth hanging in on this event."
Adding to Alister's comments, Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team manager Derek Dauncey said: "The key to the Safari is to keep the car in the rally and, overnight, we're now in a position to take points, despite losing a lot of time. With the high rate of attrition, hopefully one of the cars in front will fall out tomorrow, moving us even higher up in the Manufacturers' points. It's difficult for a driver to accept the time loss and keep motivated, but Alister has stuck in there and it just goes to show that it pays off."
The carnage of yesterday has barely been less today and no fewer than four of the leading crews have hit the sidelines in what is proving to be one of the toughest and roughest Safaris in years. Broken rear dampers in the opening test paled into insignificance for Tommi Makinen, the overnight leader dropping to sixth and then ultimately into retirement when the suspension failed on his Subaru in CS8. Kenneth Eriksson, who had powered the Skoda into fourth position, retired within sight of his service crew with a broken gearbox, and Carlos Sainz was forced out when the oil pump belt broke and the Focus ended up with no oil pressure. Richard Burns is also out, the Briton retiring in bizarre circumstances as he approached the time control into service after CS8. Burns was left with just three wheels on his Peugeot when the suspension broke in the section and, as he approached the control, he beached the car on the soft and dusty soil, going OTL in very frustrating circumstances. The result of all this is that 11 of the top drivers are now out of the event, including the two top Championship leaders. Around all this, Colin McRae (Ford) has picked his way through the sections, avoided trouble and leads the 2002 Safari Rally with three sections remaining tomorrow. Behind him, Harri Rovanpera has moved up into second in the sole remaining registered Peugeot, while Markko Martin (Ford), making his debut in Africa and not particularly enjoying the experience, held a fine third overall until his Focus failed to start in final service and he incurred 11 minutes 30 seconds of penalty, dropping him to fifth overall. Thomas Radstrom has therefore climbed into third, unexpectedly, on Citroen's debut in the Safari Rally, and the French manufacturer's delight is compounded by fourth position for team-mate Sebastien Loeb. Gilles Panizzi (Peugeot) rounds off the top six. With one day remaining, there are only nine of the manufacturers' drivers remaining, only six of whom are registered for Championship points.
Still to come--
The third leg of the Safari Rally returns to the Great Rift Rally for the final three competitive sections, each again a repetition of those already run. The route is the shortest of the three days covering just 262.85 competitive kilometres in a total distance of 683.50. The surviving contenders return to Nairobi for the finish at 16:15 hrs (local).