The Nissan 200SX coasted to a halt, gearbox broken. With hopes of a Safari Rally win dashed for another year, Vic Preston Junior and co-driver John Lyall were ready to get out of the car to start work on the transmission.
Then they decided against it. For very good reason. Yes, a result on the world’s most famous rally was worthy of every effort. But it wasn’t worth this.
This would have meant taking on the pride of lions which, after circling the car for a while, lay down and readied themselves for supper. Keen to avoid feeding themselves to the local wildlife, Junior and Lyall remained where they were and waited for the Nissan team to come and get them.
It’s stories like that – and many, many more – that mark Preston Jr. out as a true legend of Kenyan rallying.
It was with the deepest sadness that DirtFish learned of his passing, aged 71, on Tuesday.
Junior – so-called because of his father by the same name, who had also competed in the sport – was an enormously popular figure in rallying on the continent of Africa and around the world.
He competed mainly in Africa and once won 12 from 12 rounds of the Kenyan National Championship driving a Lancia Rally 037 in 1985. He drove for a multitude of factory teams, including Lancia, Porsche, Mercedes, Nissan and Audi.
But it was with Ford that his official career began – and it began with a podium on only his second ever East African Safari Rally outing. Having impressed in a twin-cam in 1971, that Ford Escort was replaced by a shiny Boreham RS1600 version 12 months later. As team-mate to Hannu Mikkola, he placed Ford’s Escort third on the Safari.
He never won the event but managed three podiums, one of which was a second place aboard a Porshe 911.
His passion for rallying began as a boy. Aged 16 and undeterred by the legal requirement to own a driving licence (which wasn’t an option for another year), Junior started his rallying career. It was a career that would last for 24 years.
It was rare for him to compete too far from the shores of Africa, but when he did, he never let himself down – he finished third on the 1973 Lindisfarne Rally, an event based in England’s infamous Kielder forest, aboard an RS1600 and placed an 037 fourth on the 1985 Costa Smeralda behind team-mates Dario Cerrato, Attilio Bettega and Fabrizio Tabaton.
It was a mark of his standing in the sport that Lancia retained him as an official driver from the end of 1983 until 1988, when he finished the second of two Safaris at the wheel of a Group A Delta. Differential failure was a frustrating way to finish what had been something of a cherished partnership.
Kenyan Motor Sport Federation president Phineas Kimathi described Junior as a “pillar of Kenyan rallying.”
Fellow African rally star Mike Kirkland added that he was: “Not only a good driver, but one of the best rally drivers in Kenya and a fun guy.”
It’s impossible to argue with either.
DirtFish extends its deepest sympathy to Preston Jr’s family and friends around the world.