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East African Safari Rally 2013 Diary

Rally Eve (Mombasa)
Following the team arrival in Kenya and unloading the containers that set sail in September, all preparations were concluded in the final days leading up to the gruelling challenge. A small test revealed all was well for Aziz Tejpar / Andy Nagi (car23) as they re-acquainted themselves with the likely rigours ahead and each other as they hadn’t sat in a car together since the 2011 event.
Tomorrow the rally starts...months of planning, many hours of car prep, endless logistics and now we are ready to go or so we thought.

Day1 Mombasa to Voi, 374km
A calculated and calm run from Mombasa, northwest to the Taita hills as the crew bedded themselves in to a comfortable and non-risky pace.
Position 15th Overall

Day2 Voi to Arusha (Tanzania), 590km
Another steady run with ‘no dramas’ saw the crew improve their position with a calculated drive. Many others pushed too hard (seemingly) and encountered troubles during the mammoth day.
Position 12th Overall

Day3 Arusha to Arusha (Tanzania), 540km
The technical nature of the stages and the power-sapping altitude suited Aziz and the Escort mark2 as he stormed through the twisty, rough stages west of Mt Kilimanjaro ascending into the top ten. Aziz was lying 7th overall at the overnight halt ahead of many numerous high-profile teams.

One crew not to make the end of the day was rally leader and former World Rally Champion, Bjorn Waldegard rolled his Porsche 911 into retirement at high speed. The car was wrecked and the crew escaped with minor injuries and concussion. They were taken by helicopter to Nairobi for a check-over and overnight observation.
Position 8th Overall

Day4 Arusha to Amboseli (Kenya), 696km
A rally day to forget!

Stage 10
On the first testing and rough section of the day the car suffered a broken track control end leaving the crew stranded mid-stage. Resourcefully the crew managed to replace the TCE by persuading a local to ride his motorbike back home and return with the necessary tools to complete the job. Alas almost 2hrs were lost.

Stage 11
A heavy landing on the next stage possibly contributed towards the radiator being damaged. The crew did not lose any time on stage but the following management service point saw an efficient replacement by the team to keep Aziz on time. The frantic action drew a great crowd of fascinated children and villagers alike.

Stage 12
Setting the 5th quickest time on the spectator stage near Nairobi was the highlight of the day. The commentators praised Aziz for his flambuoyant approach in front of 15,000 spectators.
Position 26th Overall

Day5 Rest Day at Amboseli, Total Distance 2,200km
The service team spent a busy 6hrs from 07:00 giving the car a complete check-over...the sort that you may need after two seasons of rallying in the UK. Aside from the ‘normal’ loose nuts, clips, hoses etc the biggest concern was discovered when replacing the second (non-damaged) TCE. Stress cracks were apparent and the component could have failed over the next few kilometers. Review of other teams ‘wear and tear’ revealed a similar tale as every mark2 Escort were changing the TCE’s as a precaution and some due to failures already experienced.

The technicians of the team identified the likely reason for the failure of the component and quickly suggested an adjustment to the design. After numerous conversations by Andy Nagi (co-dvr and Nairobi resident), two of the team were dispatched to Nairobi for a nine hour round trip to drop off the offending component for an engineering company to produce some modified new ones. Not quite an afternoon off by the pool after all unfortunately.

Highlights of being in Amboseli National Park at 6am are the views of Mount Kilimanjaro with its snow covered peak and the mini-safari en-route to the service area. The team managed to spot numerous wild animals (and some the night before) including:
  • Elephants
  • Monkeys
  • Baboons
  • Thompson Gazelles
  • Buffalo
  • Wilderbeast
  • Giraffe
  • Zebra
  • Hyena
  • Lion

What will the second half of the rally bring for the team? The route takes the crews north beyond Nairobi and into the Rift Valley before returning southwest back to the coast at Mombasa for a Friday afternoon finish.

Day6 Amboseli to Naivasha, 347km
Starting the long and arduous day northwards beyond Nairobi and into the Rift Valley from 26th overall, Aziz and Andy set about regaining lost time. The first priority was overhauling the Datsun (Nissan) to retake 2nd in class which was duly achieved by midday. The class leader John Lloyd was the best part of 2 hours in front in 7th overall after the Day4 time loss of 1hr 50mins, so the crew concentrated on the cars ahead in the overall standings. These were a quad of Porsches – Steve Troman +7mins ahead; Jean-Michel Martin +19mins; Aslam Khan +34mins; Jayant Shah +38mins who was 20th overall with approx 2,000km to go.

Setting a consistent pace quicker than their immediate rivals, the Allied Polymer Escort were 12th quickest during the day over-taking Troman and reducing the gap to the Porsche trio by 6mins (Martin +12mins ahead overall), 11mins (Khan +23mins) and 9mins (Shah +29mins) to end the day in 23rd. The gaps could have been reduced further in the muddy conditions (the first of the 2013 route), but Aziz opted to drive with caution through the very rough final section to preserve the car and thus set a time on a par with his nearest rivals.

The 90km corrugated murram road (very bumpy gravel) from the overnight halt back to the sanctuary of tarmac claimed the transit van support vehicle. Both rear shock absorbers had broken and one wheel and tyre were destroyed after the repetitive pounding. One spare was deployed to get the van mobile again and the second spare was fitted at the evening rest halt. Attempts to source spare shockers were unsuccessful, so the van had to be nursed for the remainder of the rally as it bounced around on its leaf springs over every slight bump and undulation. By the end of the rally, the van had amassed a small cult following from fellow service crews who admired the tenacity of the team to both nurse the ailing vehicle and propel it at surprising speeds to ensure it kept up with the rally schedule.
Position 23rd Overall

Day7 Naivasha to Naivasha, 409km
After an enjoyable stop-over at the fabulous Sopa Lodge Naivasha adjacent to Lake Naivasha the rally set off at 6am for a day of 194km mixed stages including a rough and sandy 32km to be tackled twice, a high speed 46km section and an undulating high speed 84km stage, punctuated with several deep river crossings near to Lake Elementaita.

“We were very worried on that first section in all the dust and deep sand, often crawling through in first and second gear and the engine started to overheat.” Aziz said. “We were delighted to be 13th quickest and take time off the nearest Porsches”

The second stage was unfortunately cancelled due to a land owner refusing to allow the rally over his land without a substantial payment. This allowed the crews the added bonus of a two hour lull in proceedings, so the team made the most of the opportunity and conducted two hours of service on the car. The front struts were changed as a precaution and further inspection / remedial work was conducted to the front end and rear suspension.

The third stage near to Lake Elementaita saw Aziz drop a little time after the Escort went ‘submarine’ through one of the deep river crossings (photo attached). The engine died for a period before spluttering into life, only to remain on three cylinders for a number of kilometres. Alas this allowed the nearest competitors to take back some time from the flying Escort. The final stage of the day was also cancelled as it was deemed too rough following the first running in the morning – many of the latter crews found the stage impassable and had to re-trace the route back to the start!

A routine evening service saw the team change the steering rack and the clutch before retiring to the bar to watch the hippos wander from the lake and feed in the grounds of the overnight lodge.

The shortened day restricted Aziz’s progress against the Porsche trio:
Martin – gained 5mins during the day, +18mins ahead overall
Khan – lost 6mins, +18mins ahead
Shah – lost 2mins, +28mins ahead
Position 21st Overall

Day8 Naivasha to Voi, 514km
The route headed south, back through the Rift Valley and past Nairobi, returning to the Taita Hills for the overnight stop. A mere 151km of stages were tackled alongside 360km of road sections. Whilst the crews travelled along a fairly direct route, the support vehicles had to travel an additional 150km around various link roads and via the outer reaches of Nairobi which was a challenge in itself and led to almost nine hours of driving!

After the previous days extensive service work, the Escort was in A1 condition (well almost) allowing Aziz to attack the Porsche trio who he believed were still catchable. The Escort ran trouble-free and set times just outside the top ten to claw back heaps of time against the trio:
Khan – lost 10mins during the day, +8mins ahead overall
Martin – lost 9mins, +9mins ahead
Shah – lost 6mins, +22mins ahead
Position 21st Overall

Day9 Voi to Mombasa, 348km
The Final Countdown

The final day still provided the crews with a testing 190km of competitive stages, the majority of which were a reverse of the Day1 stages, so were rough in parts. The formidable Escort set about the task of catching the Porsches before the finish line which would require a herculean effort.

Staggeringly Aziz managed to capture two Porsche scalps by overhauling Khan and Martin in the final few kilometres of the nine day challenge to beat them by less than two minutes. Alas a further 40-50km would have been required to catch the third Porsche of the pack driven by Shah who evaded capture by a mere 4 minutes.

Final standings:
15th Overall - Shah 19hrs:44mins:50secs (lost 18mins during Day9)
16th  Overall – Tejpar 19:49:18
17th Overall - Martin 19:50:31 (lost 9mins during Day9)
18th Overall - Khan 19:51:15 (lost 13mins during Day9)

Aziz said after an exhausting nine days
“Finishing 2nd in class is a fantastic result for our small team against the might of many bigger teams such as Viking Motorsport. Without our time loss on Day4 with a broken TCE (track control end) we would have been in the top ten and fighting for class victory. However I am delighted with our result and the efforts of all our crew who kept the venerable Escort running sweetly throughout. This year as ever has proved to be a considerable challenge to crew, cars and team with the dry conditions being a lot harder on the cars. Furthermore our efforts helped raise over £8,000 for Niemann Pick Disease, so every kilometre has been worthwhile for us and everyone supported by the charity.
Prior to the rally I said this would be my last Safari, but somehow I feel I may be tempted again...once the dust has settled and my body and team have recovered.
Thank you to everyone both team and sponsors who made the rally possible.”