British hopes high for Safari Rally

British hopes of a fourth successive Safari Rally victory remain high as the World Championship crews turn their backs on the ice of Sweden and head for the hot and dusty plains of Kenya's Rift Valley

British hopes high for Safari Rally

Colin McRae won the event in 1997 and 1999 while Richard Burns took the 1998 event and was leading last year before his suspension failed and let the Scot through to victory.

McRae goes to Kenya on a high having finally broken a nine-event run of non-finishes with third place in Sweden while Burns knows that he has the car to do the job again if luck is on his side.

Luck is a major factor on this unique event.

With one single competitive section as long as an entire day on some European events, demands on cars and tyres are higher than on any other event.

The forecast is for a dry and dusty event that will put maximum strain on everything, not least the drivers who have to be in peak condition to ward off the effects of dehydration.

While Ford and Subaru, with McRae and Burns respectively, head for Africa with victory in their sights, two teams are making the trip for the first time and simply hoping to stay the course.

Skoda has enlisted the services of former Toyota engineer Karl-Heinz Goldstein to work his magic on the Octavia WRC for what will be the Czech team's first ever visit to Africa.

Peugeot, on the other hand, turned to the Senegal desert (the scene of so many Paris-Dakar victories) to toughen up the 206WRC that won the Swedish Rally.

For SEAT the Safari will be the chance to bury the ghosts of 1999 when both cars struggled against a tide of shattered wheel rims that cost any chance of victory on the Spanish team's first attempt.

Mitsubishi's Tommi Makinen rewrote the Safari rule book in 1996 when he turned the African marathon into a sprint event, relying on the service crews to fix any damage in time for him to continue.

Now the event is a mad dash for glory, rather than a rally where tactical mastery is of the
essence.

It is also the only event where the roads aren't closed to normal traffic and so each of the leading cars has a 'spotter' helicopter flying just ahead to warn of any hazards in the road; buses, cyclists and of course a myriad of Kenyan wildlife.

The Safari, which starts from Nairobi on Friday morning, is the last of the specialised events that kick-start the championship season.

From then the series turns to "normal" European style events where the outcome isn't so
much of a lottery.

Only then will the form book start to reflect the likely outcome of the title race but, for now, teams are concentrating on rallying's last great adventure.

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