Three-time European champion Sobieslaw Zasada is set to become the oldest competitor in World Rally Championship history when he starts this week’s Safari Rally Kenya.
Zasada will drive the youngest type of rally car on the entry list – a Ford Fiesta Rally3. He has not competed in 24 years since the 1997 Safari where he finished 12th and second in the production class with a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo III with his wife, Ewa, co-driving.
A five-time champion in his native Poland as well as a triple European Rally Championship title holder, Zasada has started six WRC events in his career – just two outside Kenya in Canada and the US – with a best finish of sixth on the 1978 Safari in a Mercedes 280 E.
He will battle against three Kenyan drivers in the RC3 class this week. His nephew Daniel Chwist, who is 38, will also compete but in the RC2 class in a Ford Fiesta Rally2.
“Of course, this is a huge challenge and my goal is purely to reach the finish line,” Zasada admitted.
“I’ve always found the Safari to be a fantastic rally. I’m going back because I’m very curious to see what this rally looks like in its present form. It’s about the challenge.”
Zasada made his Safari debut in 1969 and has a best finish of second in 1972 with a Porsche 911.
“They were very difficult rallies,” he added. “In the longest Safari Rally in 1972, which was 6480 kilometres [4026 miles] long, I finished second.
“The winner was over nine hours behind the time schedule. It was driving for three days and three nights without any break. Drinking tea helped me a lot!
“I think those rallies were three or even four times more difficult than the current ones in terms of endurance and condition.”
By competing this week, Zasada breaks the record for the oldest WRC competitor by almost 10 years.
The current record holder is Norwegian Leif Vold-Johansen, who drove the 1994 Monte Carlo Rally aged 82 and 83 as the weekend straddled his birthday. Sadly, he retired his Volkswagen Golf GTI 16v.
Vold-Johansen did return to the Monte for two more years as a co-driver in 1995 and 1996, finishing 51st and ninth in class alongside Bjarte Vevle in the 1995. But he would not start in 1996 through illness, and passed away six months later aged 84.