1972: Mikkola's breakthrough Safari win
Perhaps it was the start in Dar-es-Salaam that did it with the thoughts of Chairman Mao blending subtly with those of Chairman Turner in the hothouse climate to provide Ford with the necessary guidance to make an almost clean sweep of the Twentieth East African Safari. First overall and first men to receive the kudos of being an overseas crew to win the Safari were Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm, whose Escort RS had a few problems in the first part of the rally but took the lead at just under half-distance and led from there to the finish
Behind them came yet another overseas crew, current European Rally Champion Sobieslaw Zasada and Marien Bien from Poland in a works Porsche 911 S, which made the overseas win a bit of an anticlimax as it seemed all too easy.
An early leader was the Datsun 240Z driven by Safari winners for the past two years, Edgar Herrmann and Hans Schuller but they dropped back with troubles and finally finished fifth.
The entire Datsun team was plagued with mechanical problems of one kind or another and the image of the ultra-strong Datsuns received a very severe dent though they were the only team to get all their cars to the finish. Ford lost Joginder Singh and Sembi before the end of the first leg which made this Safari another landmark in that it was the first one on which Joginder has ever failed to finish.
However, the rest of their team came through with Vic Preston Jr. and Bev Smith failing to beat the Porsche by a mere two minutes, while Robin Hillyar, accompanied on this occasion by Mark Birley (the ex-Etonian owner of Annabel's night club), drove an excellent rally to finish fourth for the second year running and assure Ford of the team prize.
The normally-reliable Peugeots could have been expected to profit from the delays of the Datsuns but they lost two of their 504s in the first leg. while double Safari winner Bert Shankland and Chris Bates had a whole list of troubles and counted themselves lucky to pick up ninth place.
Roger Harris and Peter Austin, who have a good record of Safari finishes in Peugeots, took seventh place but they too had problems and suspension failure caused them to roll just before the finish.
The rally was held in almost totally dry conditions, far from the mud plugging that had been expected, but even then the lateness was extended on three of the four legs to make sure that at least a few of the private owners got to the finish. However, so high were the average speeds that even the top crews were glad of a couple of extra hours if they ran into trouble.
The East African Safari is traditionally held over the Easter weekend as most of its officials and marshals work on a voluntary basis. The rally is organised by the Automobile Association of East Africa which though it operates in all three of the coun-tries comprising that region -- Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda - has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. It is from there that most of the initial work is done. The habit has grown up over the past few years of alternat-ing the starting town and this year it was the turn of Tanzania's capital Dar-es-Salaam to host the rally. However, this does have its drawbacks, for the scrutineering takes place the weekend previous to the rally and is split between Dar-es-Salaam on Saturday and Nairobi on Sunday. A host of officials thus have to give up another weekend and com-mute down and back on the plane.
Scrutineering can be a problem for the Safari especially since a wider range of groups was allowed a few years back and more exotic machinery started to make the pilgrimage to the Safari. What often happens is that people try their cars before the event and discover that something needs reinforcing and explain it away by saying that reinforcing is merely "mending" of a broken part. There is even the legendary story of the local driver who purposely rolled his car before the rally started so that he would have a free hand to rebuild it the way he wanted. Whatever the truth, the Safari scrutineers are rightly a suspicious lot but this year they had little fault to find with most of the cars. They did show interest at the Nairobi start, though, as to why the Ford sump guards were only retained by two bolts at the rear instead of four as shown on the recognition form. The answer as quickly supplied by Mick Jones and Bill Bamett was that now that they had mounted them direct to the body, only two bolts were needed!
Even with the length of time that people take to prepare for the Safari, there was plenty of evidence of last-minute work on all sides. Brian Culcheth/Lofty Drews had to go down to Mombasa to fetch their Special Tuning Triumph 2.5 PI on the day of scrutineering as the ship to which it had been con-signed had suffered considerable delays in reaching East Africa. They drove it up to Nairobi and got it through scrutineering late and then had to work on it and then drive it down to Dar for the start on Thursday. Culcheth said that by the time the rally started he had forgotten the meaning of square meals and beds.
Then the Japanese Datsuns, which had been there the longest, had minor problems such as getting the Halda set properly on Shekhar Mehba/Mike Doughty's 240 Z as it was only in the last minute that they got all his Sears Roebuck tyres for fitting and found that they were a different rolling radius to the tyres that he had used for practice.
Ove Andersson in the new 1800 SSS was still trying to sort out his Japanese Dunlops at the eleventh hour as he had a massive total of tread separations with them during practice. Dunlop England managed to find him fourteen of last year's tyres with a harder compound with which he was much happier Finally, Edgar Herrmann/Hans Schuller who had found problems with getting their 240 Z through deep water in practice, got a bit worried about what should happen if it was a really wet Safari and Schuller spent one day in the garage effectively sealing his engine from everything but air. The Japanese mechanics didn't seem to mind too much but they got very excited when he started spraying the engine with a hosepipe while it was running to test the effectiveness of his work.
A final word on the tyre war was that Mehta was on Sears only because of his arrangement with them through the year for East African championship events plus last year's RAC and now the Acropolis. Dunlop bad most of the other runners including Ford, who were using the mid-width Monte tyre and Datsun, who were using the Japanese version of the SP 44.
In the Peugeot camp, all but Shankland were on Michelin for the first time and were using the Nora which is a strengthened wall winter tyre not dissimilar to the one they make for Sears. Bert Shankland was sticking to his Dunlop SP 44s as, coming from Tanzania, he has somewhat different contractual arrangement to the others. Pirelli were there in somewhat reduced strength as Lancia did not have their usual four cars and were in fact only looking after two Fiat 125 Ss, one of which was a full works car for Raffaele Pinto/Marcello Biondi while the other was locally prepared for Robin Ulyate/Ivan Smith.
With everyone expecting a wet Safari, the fact that it was pouring with rain on the Wednesday morning in Dar was no great surprise though it did persuade a lot of people to leave the air-conditioned safety of their hotel and go out to look at the very first section from Dar to Mlandizi through the Pugu Hills. This is virtually a section of waterholes which in serious rain can stop a rally dead, but though there was plenty of water, nowhere was it so deep as to be impassable. The morning of the start, there was just a sprinkling of rain but it was hardly enough to wet the windscreens of the first cars as they sped away from the ramp, President Nyerere and British Caledonian's Scots piper and out to the horrors of Pugu.
Styles varied a lot and some just plunged straight through the middle of the water and trusted to their waterproofing while others cannily skirted the edges. Fastest men were Pinto in the Fiat and Hugh Lionnet/Philip Hechle in one of the Marshall's Peugeot 504s with 22 minutes lost with Timo Makinen/ Henry Liddon (Escort RS) close behind with 23 down and Bert Shankland/Chris Bates (Peugeot 504) and Hannu Mikkola/Gunnar Palm (Escort RS) on 24 minutes lost.
Perhaps a record time for the stage in the opposite sense was Ulyate/Smith who flipped their Fiat and lost over three hours getting out of the section and they were eventually time barred before Nairobi.
From this point on the rally was almost 100 per cent dry which was quite contrary to expectations and Makinen made the most of being first car on the road to set best times over the next two sections up to Mpwapwa where he led by four minutes from Joginder/Sembi in one of the other works Escort RSs who was himself two minutes ahead of Mikkola.
However, this situation rapidly changed for Joginder was in trouble with a loose front strut which was losing its top locking nut and he lost 46 minutes into Dodoma on a section that Mikkola cleaned. He shot into the Ford service garage but the job was a long one and before it was finished, the Ford mechanics had to leave to catch their aeroplane to the next service point, leaving Joginder to finish the job himself. He lost an hour and a half on the next section up to Babati but was then going well until the failure recurred on the penultimate section into Nairobi and he went off the road and virtually removed the rear axle on one side.
Robin Hillyar/Mark Birley who were driving the fifth works Escort under the banner of Annabel's Night Club which is owned by Mr Birley, also had problems with their struts and lost an hour and a half up to Babati getting them fixed.
Fortunately Ford's system of radio communication between rally cars and service cars got the information about these two failures ahead and they were prevented on the other cars.
Back in Morogoro, the second control, the Peugeot team were starting to find the going tedious. Shankland stopped because of a terrible whining noise in his gearbox and dropped the sump guard off to weigh up the trouble but found nothing and continued. He later reckoned that it was merely a bearing run-ning itself in but all the same he lost half an hour and dropped out of the leading ten.
Two of the other 504s driven by Nick Nowicki/Jock Aird and Jamal Din/Mateen Mughal both hit drifts going to Mpwaowa and found to their astonishment that the fan blades had hit the lower block of the radiator and let all the water out. They got the radiators changed at the service point in Dodoma but the effect of running some dis-tance without water had blown the cylinder head gaskets and Nowicki retired almost at once while Jamal Din struggled on and lost five hours to Babati and was eventually time-barred before Nairobi.
Some consolation for the Peugeots was that Hugh Lionnet was lying fourth in Dodoma but even this crust was removed when he had a brake pipe chopped by a stone on the way up to Babati and drove most of the way to Nairobi without brakes.
Another car to join the ranks of the retired was the Pinto/Biondi Fiat which stopped on the way to Mpwapwa after negotiating a drift a bit too quickly.
Three cars and drivers had come over from Australia to do the Safari but they were not destined to last very long. There were two Holden Toranas with straight six engines in Opel Manta type bodies and these both fell out from Dodoma to Babati. Stewart McLeod and Peter Huth had a differential bolt unscrew itself and let all the oil out which seized the differential in the biggest possible way, while Evan Green/Dave Shephard had the top inner wishbone bush pull clean out of the body and with the very limited service that they had, there was no chance to continue in time. Finally Bob Watson/Mai McPherson in the Renault Australia R12 Gordini dropped it into a very deep drift on the Morogoro to Dodoma road and removed most of the working parts on the front end of the car.
If the toll was high amongst the front runners, back in the field things were much worse and many cars never got out of the Pugu waterholes. Kim Gatende/Peter Wekhomba blew up their Datsun 1600 SSS on that section while Philip Booth/Nick McHardy got bogged down in their Escort T/C. Richard Barbour/Rob Combes lost the exhaust on their Saab V4 after Morogoro while Chris Fryer/Brian Barton (Datsun 1600 SSS) lost time with rear shock absorber trouble which cost them a lot of time in Dodoma.
Of course, there were hazards which are associated with road racing and Satwant Singh/John Mitchell side-swiped a bus with their little Datsun 120. More serious was the shunt that Angelo Esposito/Manfred Kindermann had with a Land-Rover on the Lake Manyara escarpment after Babati which wrote off their Alfa Romeo and resulted in the drivers being carted off to Nairobi hospital by the Flying Doctor service.
Incidentally, all of the rally crews are made temporary members of the Flying Doctors' Society of Africa which means that in such cases they get free service from the Society. It very rarely gets abused though this year one of the doctors flew all the way up behind Mount Elgon on the Ugandan border to answer a call for a doctor to discover that the ailment that the driver was suffering from was travel sickness!
Back in the rally, it was becoming dark with only the swiftness that Africa can manage as the leaders drove the main road up from Dodoma to Babati. Makinen was well ahead on the road and on points but then he had all four rear wheel studs shear on the left-hand side and was stopped for over an hour and a half changing the hub for a spare that he had in the car. Apparently the failure was due to the wheel nuts not being properly tightened but it let Mik-kola through into lead bath on points and on the road while behind him, Vic Preston Jun. and Edgar Herrman lay equal second on points twenty two minutes down.
Also on the run up to Babati, Ove Andersson had his first problem with the Datsun 1800 SSS When it coasted silently to a halt with the stillness broken only by the rattle of the petrol pump. The problem was that in the confusion of the pit-stop in Dodoma, the fuel filler cap had not been property replaced and most of the petrol had gone on to the road. They eventu-ally borrowed some petrol from a passer-by and limped into Babati almost an hour late.
Their hopes were dented even further by falling foul of a "native trap" an the road away from Babati - 'they hit a large log placed just around a blind corner and punc-tured two tyres and bent a steering arm.
Brian Culcheth was already in problems with his Triumph 2.5 PI which had started to go soft on the front suspension and was emitting grumbling noises from the differential which eventually had to be changed. Local hero and best African driver last year, Peter Shiyukah who was driving a works prepared Escort RS entered by the East African Standard, dropped out with transmission failure while even the eventual winner had a taste of trouble. Mikkola hit a bump a bit wrong going north from Babati and opened the front wheels a bit. While he stopped to adjust them himself, Gunnar Palm used the time to the best advantage to change the fan belt which had been slipping and depriving them of full lights. The delay cost them their lead on the road and on points and Herrmann/ Schuller swept past to lead into the first halt in Nairobi.
To give some idea of how tough the average speeds had been the first car was due into Nairobi at just gone one o'clock in the morning some 13 hours after the start, but even the leaders were almost three hours behind schedule. This meant that for many of the tail-enders, the six hour halt in Nai-robi became merely a matter of checking in and turning round and going off again. Almost half the entry didn't make it and only 42 left on the second leg up towards the Ugandan capital of Kampala.
Leaders at Nairobi:
1 Herrmann (Datsun 240Z), 150 minutes; 2, Mikkola (Escort RS), 170 m; 3, Preston Jr (,Escort RS), 173 m; 4, Zasada (Porsche 911S), 179 m; 5, Mehta Datsun. 240Z), 130 m; 6, Shankland .(Peugeot 504), 191 m.
If the leg up from Dar to Nairobi had been dry, the second leg to Kampala was even worse as the sun beat down out of a cloudless sky and the temperatures went up well above the seasonal normal. Whether it was the temperature or not, the Datsuns started running into clutch trouble and the very fast private entry of Viju Sidpra/Chris Shaw who were driving an old-bodied 1800 SSS lost their eighth place when they stopped before the Ugandan border to try to alleviate the problem. They lost three hours on leaving Kampala on the third leg to change the clutch and were finally time-barred at Nairobi II. Andersson lost his clutch at Jinja - all these failures were due to the thrust bearing seizing on the shaft - and drove the entire third leg without one while both Mehta and Aaltonen stopped in their 240 Zs to change the bearing and the plates. Mehta lost almost an hour with this at Jinja while Aaltonen drove to about halfway on the -third leg and changed it in Eldoret losing 40 minutes.
The rally lost Aziz Tejpar/Natu Vadgama in the only competing DAF 55 when they experienced a problem that had never bothered this type of car before. Sometimes it has been known to have a failure in the front pulley of the drive train, but they had a rear pulley open up against its springs and consequently they only had drive through one belt and that didn't last long. Bert Shankland had two punc-tures going to Kampala but kept sixth place overall but perhaps the mast surprising thing was that Herrmann had had two punctures on one section and then a high speed blow-out before Kampala that had dropped him down to fourth place.
The second leg was quite short and the speeds not so high that most crews couldn't get at least four hours rest before setting out on the toughest leg of all-Kampala back to Nairobi. This started at eight o'clock in the evening and was scheduled to finish in Nairobi at five o'clock the following evening but in fact it took well over the 24 hours. The first sections out from Kampala were narrow and dusty-and set at a totally impossible average. It was here that Mikkola did the thing that possibly ensured his win. He managed to get past Zasada and conse-quently he was not only the leader on the road but on points as wall. On the first section to Jinja he set best time, ten minutes quicker than the Porsche while to Mbale he was 14 minutes quicker which shows how good it is not to have to take other people's dust. Following his example was Preston Jr, who also got past Zasada at Makutano, then 28 minutes behind the leader on points.
Edgar Herrmann was Stopped before the Kenyan border at Amudat with fuel starvation caused by a blocked fuel filter which dropped him back to fourth place and worse still to running behind six other cars on the road. Hugh Lionnet had hit a drift coming away from Kampala on a road diversion and deranged his front suspension and despite a lot of work by the Peugeot mechanics, it collapsed on the Tot section and he retired before Nairobi II.
Tot and Tambach are the two terrible twins on the Safari which usually cause many retirements but in the dry conditions with impossible times-Mikkola lost 58 minutes in 134 kilometres on the Tot section -no-one felt like extending themselves and most people got through if a bit late! The organisers again decided to extend the lateness by two hours to ensure that some got through to Nairobi without running out of time and again Ove Andersson was grateful after his Datsun 1800 SSS had a wiring fire on the Chesoi escarpment and he lost two hours getting it in to the service at Eldoret.
By this time it was daylight and the cars were within 100 miles of Nairobi along the main road but the route lay up into the northern frontier distract by Thompsons Falls, Wamba, Archer's Post, Meru, Embu and then into Nairobi. All these roads are very fast and when Mikkola had a puncture, Zasada streamed past him and by Meru he had reduced the Ford's lead to 19 minutes and had passed Preston Jr and Herrmann on points.
Leaders at Nairobi II,
1 Mikkola (Escort RS), 366; 2, Zasada (Porsche 911 S), 331; 3 Preston Jr (Escort RS), 407; 4, Herrmann (Datsun 240Z), 438; 5, Hillyair (Escort RS), 467; 6, Aaltonen (Datsun 240Z), 479.
The leaders got into Nairobi at about half past six on Saturday evening but the 30 survivors were spread out over six hours and the last man got in after midnight. The re-start was shortly after five o'clock on Sunday morning and the competitors faced a fairly gentle run down to Mombasa before crossing into Tanzania for the last act in the Usumbara mountains. Shekhar Mehta/Mike Doughty lost a couple of hours almost straight away when the front suspension collapsed on their 240Z as a result of an earlier excursion into a bank. They got going again and had it fixed at a Datsun service point only to lose more time again in Mombasa when their engine dropped an exhaust valve. They had the rocker discon-nected and finished the rally on five cylin-ders.
Bert Shankland stopped on the Mombasa road section which was run at 90mph average with a terrible noise from his differential which he decided was one half of the limited slip not working. To cure it, he turned on to the dirt at the side of the road and spun the rear wheels for a 100 yards or more to get the limited slip clutches working in unison again. Ove Andersson had another wiring fire in the Mwatate sisal estate and stopped another half hour to weld the rear cross-member which made him almost the last car into the control at Mombasa.
Edgar Herrmann was back as leader on the road at this point and was lying third overall in the classification but the general Datsun maladies caught up with him shortly after he had entered Tanzania and he lost half an hour welding his front suspension and then another 20 minutes changing a strut and finally another hour after the Usumbaras sorting it out again.
Mikkola seemed to go on without anything more major than the odd puncture and now had a cool lead of over half an hour on points to Zasada. The Polish driver really tried in the Usumbaras to make some impression on the Flying Finn but he was first caught up in a shoving match with Timo Makinen leaving the control at Mkomazi which cost him one branch of his exhaust system and then on the tarmac at Lushoto he shot off the road and down into a vegetable patch. The Porsche windscreen broke in half on impact and had to be taped in but they fortunately found a tractor road and were able to drive back up on to the rally route.
Meantime both Makinen and Aaltonen discovered that they had missed a passage control prior to Mkomazi and there was nothing else to do but to go round for it. Makinen chose to drive down from Soni to the control which was at Mombo and lost 40 minutes getting it while Aaltonen picked it up by going back from Korogwe after the Usumbaras and last about the same. Right at the start of the Usumbaras, at the top of the Mlalo escarpment, Bert Shankland/Chris Bates were stopped with the sump detached from the engine but they were able to borrow some oil from passing competitors and got into Korogwe where Datsun service helped them out by welding the sump for them. Mark Birley was finding out all about the tactics of rallying as Robin Hillyar and Rauno Aaltonen were running practically together on the twisty, dusty and incredibly rough roads of the Usumbaras, Aaltonen finally got ahead at one passage control where he just got his car there first and Birley fell over trying to outsprint Liddon to the control and cut his hand quite badly.
From the twists and bumps of the Usumbaras where even the fastest car was 40 minutes late, the rally set off for Morogoro by the old main road which claimed Paolo. Coniglio/Mike Kirkland who rolled their Datsun 1600 SSS avoiding a non-competing car in the early hours of the morning and Coniglio had to be carted off to hospital with one of his fingers missing. Aaltonen had the last of his many stops along here when the front suspension came adrift and he had to winch it back into place and in fact finished with the winch cable still attached.
There was to be a four-hour halt at Morogoro where the cars would be re-grouped for the final 130 kph dash into Dar but a tree across the road on the last section had to be removed and there was a half-hour delay before the cars left on top of the normally allowed neutralisation. The final drama came just before Dar when Roger Harris and Peter Austin rolled their Peugeot 504 just before the Bagamovo Ferry as a result of having the front suspension tie-rod come adrift and they finished the rally with a car with no windows and a very pointed roof. This section also claimed the last Group 1 car when the Datsun 1600 SSS of Satwant Singh/John Mitchell retired.
The welcome at Dar es Salaam for the 18 tired crews that had made it was fantastic and at one point the excited spectators broke through the police cordon and into Tanganyika Motors where the scrutineering was going on just to get a look at Bert Shankland. Mikkola and Palm were very popular victors and with Zasada/Bien completing the overseas domination, the affair of the overseas win seemed much less impor-tant than it had before.
Undoubtedly the best local driver this year was Vic Preston Jr who had brought his Escort RS into third place very close behind Zasada despite being quite poorly before the rally with stomach trouble. Indeed he attributed much of his success to his co-driver, Bev Smith, who had kept up his morale throughout the 6,300 km of driving.
For Ford, this was a tremendous result superceding anything that they have done in the past few years and endorsing the strength and reliability of their cars far more effectively than any number of racing wins. For Datsun, it was the moment of truth after two years of victory and it will be interesting to see what phoenix comes out of the ashes of their defeat.
For the Safari, it was also a moment of truth for in the glorious moment of having just run the world's fastest, toughest event, there was also the realisation that even East Africa is being civilised at such a rate that main roads are improving and the traffic on them increasing to the point where running a road race is becoming a bit dangerous.
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