Recounting our readers’ favorite Safari WRC memories

There won't be any new Safari Rally memories made in 2020, but our readers picked out some gems from years past

Juha Kankkunen / Nicky Grist – Toyota Team Europe Celica – 1994 WRC Safari Rally

As part of #DirtFishSafariWeek we asked you, our readers, to pick out your favorite moments in Safari Rally history. While there’s no 2020 edition to create new memories, the event’s rich history in the World Rally Championship coupled with its rough-and-tumble reputation created a whole chapter of classic rally stories.

The Safari Rally has always been one of the most emotive rounds of the WRC. It was impossible to spend a week in Africa without coming away from memories that would last a lifetime.

We put some of your posts about best-loved Safari moments to our senior staff writer David Evans to get his thoughts on them.

David Evans: Juha Kankkunen’s 1994 Safari is one the four-time champion won’t forget. He arrived at the start with a sublime recent record in Africa, having won twice and finished second twice in the previous four years. He started the 1994 event with high hopes of another victory. Unfortunately, it all went badly wrong for Kankkunen and his British co-driver Nicky Grist on the opening competitive section.

Tearing through the Taita Hills at 120mph the Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD hit a bump in the middle of the road and took off. The car somersaulted five times and landed 170 meters away from the bump. Kankkunen was knocked unconscious, when he came round, he wiped the blood away and said, somewhat optimistically: “Let’s get back into the race…”

The Celica was more than a meter shorter than it should have been and bits of it were spread for miles around. Grist fractured his shoulder in the shunt, while Kankkunen suffered torn ankle ligaments as well as bruising galore.

There was a similarly big crash for Freddy Loix five years on, when the Belgian comprehensively flattened Mitsubishi’s Carisma GT. Loix and co-driver Sven Smeets were shipped to hospital and discharged with what was reckoned to be bad bruising. One painful flight back to Europe later and Freddy decided to get his ‘bad back’ looked into at home.

The doctors in Nairobi had failed to spot a cracked vertebrae.

Burns out l 36


A couple of years after Loix’s wince-inducing Safari, there were similar expressions in the Peugeot camp, when Richard Burns retired within sight of service. The ‘road’ into the Suswa service park was made of talcum powder-like volcanic dust. With all four wheels functioning as intended, the crews were just about making it through. When RB came in with the left-front wedged back into the arch, he had no chance.

Co-driver Robert Reid remembers it well.

“We knew there was a hole on the road into service,” said the Scot. “We knew we had to avoid that, we talked about it on the road section. Coming onto the soft stuff, Richard pushed on a bit, but the wheel dug in and pivoted the car around. We spun and stopped. We dug for as long as we could, then went back to the hotel and emptied about five kilos of dust from our lungs.”

DE: Kenneth Eriksson was happy to avoid an accident when he completed one of the faster sections with his brakes on fire in 1996. Gilles Panizzi also suffered from some serious overheating issues when he lost his rag with a fellow competitor who held his Peugeot up in 2000.

The Frenchman jumped out of his 206 WRC at the stop line and remonstrated – using some physical force – with the driver ahead.

“That’s not sport,” spat Panizzi when asked about the incident. “My helicopter asked him to stop, but he did not. Not sport.”

His forceful remonstrations earned him a $50,000 fine from the FIA.

Markko Martin / Michael Park - Ford Focus WRC '02 - 2002 WRC Safari Rally

Photo: McKlein

Ford’s 2002 Safari was a memorable one, for both Markko Märtin and Colin McRae. Markko, it has to be said, wasn’t the biggest fan of the rally. His opinion was further soured when his co-driver Michael ‘Beef’ Park informed him he’d have to drive one section without any pace notes. He’d got the wrong pace note book in his bag.

The right book was back in service. Märtin’s spotter chopper flew back to service, picked up the book and Ford spotter Martin Wilkinson read the notes to ‘Beef’ who conveyed them to Märtin. Ultimately, the time wasn’t too bad – but it’s fair to say both were glad to see the back of Kenya that year.

DE: McRae’s opinion on the Safari that year was very different to Märtin’s, the Scot clinching a third win on what would be the final Safari Rally before this year’s proposed event. McRae’s success was born not only out of some inspired driving – and some special lines where he found a faster and less bumpy route along a grass bank – but also by a more patient, almost conservative approach. Further proof that the 1995 champion knew more than one way to win a rally.

DE: I don’t remember Loeb having to change his seat at the end of a stage that year. What I do remember was the Frenchman battling consistent damper issues on the Xsara WRC’s African debut to finish a solid fifth.