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Motorsport musings

August 2013 - It's amazing how fast a season can fall apart so rapidly!

I began codriving for rapid youngster Raaji Bharij early in 2012 and we clicked immediately. A 5th overall finish, despite losing a rear wheel and everything that was attached to it, on our first rally together, was the start of an enjoyable season. We won stages, lead events and stood on the podium. And then came 2013…

Round 1 – Nairobi - Kajiado Rally

new lookWe had finished off 2012 with a number of stage wins and a podium finish to our name and had headed to the opening round of 2013 confident that we could challenge for the title this year. This belief was reinforced at the end of the first stage in February's season-opening Kajiado Rally. Despite taking it easy Raaji and I had won the stage and were leading the rally! 4km later it was all over. An over optimistic attack on a right hander saw us have a massive moment when the car ran wide, bounced through a ditch, clattered over some enormous rocks and then back onto the road. During all of this Raaji had wondered if he'd be out of hospital by Monday when he needed to be back at work. I had wondered if we could re-shell our car before the next rally - this is how convinced we both were that we were having a big crash! Fortunately we never gave up - Raaji kept his foot in and guided our rocket back to the road whilst I just kept calling the notes! True pros!

We didn't get away so lucky though... A front left puncture forced us to stop just a kilometer further down the road and this, inadvertently saved our rally car! Whilst changing the puncture we discovered a fuel leak. Although it took us a while to trace the source it was just as well we did. A fuel pipe had ruptured dangerously close to the electrics and that was the end of our rally. Thanks to Bilal Patel and some friends Raaji and I were consoled with chilled sparkling wine and smoked salmon..... Carlsberg don't do rally retirements but if they did.....

Round 2 – Nyeri Rally

nyeri recceRaaji and I were cautiously optimistic heading to Nyeri. The technical nature of the roads suited us but we both knew that we needed points to get our championship back on track quickly. Recce was ok, some stages were fantastic, but traffic was of concern for all of the top drivers. I was also flabbergasted that a section of route that we had used in a rally raid just two weeks previously was now being used as part of our rally route! As it had been raining persistently for the last two weeks this particular stage was a mess and I was one of many that was vocal about having the section shortened... But alas the organisers ignored us and insisted that the stage was run.

Day 1 consisted of 3 stages. Raaji and I had agreed to take it easy and just go for a finish but he isn't used to just driving around and, by his own admission, didn't drive particularly well. We needed the day in the lower reaches of the top 10. However, we were more lucky than Jas Mangat, whose Subaru N12 was written off by a drunk spectator who lost control on a transport section and crashed into the rally car, forcing it out of the rally on the spot.

ian duncanAfter chaos before the start on day 2, when the organisers couldn't tell us whether the long muddy stage would be cancelled or not, we headed out to the first stage of the day. This was a reverse run of the same stage that I had retired on the previous year when codriving Peter Horsey. Back then we had optimistically taken a large jump at around 200kph, landed on our nose and damaged the radiator! This year the same stage would prove equally as unkind to Raaji and I. A top pin from our plastic Group N radiator snapped and sprayed all the water out. Rather than blow an engine we were forced to pull up and retire once again! Gutting!

ambulanceMore shock was to follow as we received word that close friend Ian Duncan had met an ambulance traveling the wrong way through a stage and had sustained heavy damage to his rally car. Thankfully his experience saved Ian and Codriver Amaar Slaatch from serious injury but their Evo 9 was pretty badly damaged! A stark reminder that rallying in Africa really is dangerous!

Round 3 – Voi Rally

sprained thumbThe pre event preparations for Voi were entertaining. The weekend before the rally we went out to test the car. A friend of Raajis brought along his new Evo 9 to practice as well. Right at the end of the day the friend asked me to go along for a ride to feel his suspension. As I climbed aboard Raaji jokingly said "don't kill my codriver"… haha. 5 minutes later we were upside down as the car gently slid off the bank as we ran wide through a medium left corner…. Minimal damage but I did sprain my wrist… not ideal preparations for a rally!

voi recceRaaji and I headed to Voi with clear heads. Two non finishes had pretty much ended any title hopes we might have had and so now we were just going to do our own thing. No strategies or plans - we were there to have fun. And for two glorious kilometers we did have fun! Two corners separated by nearly 1.5 kilometers of flat out dead straight and smooth roads were all we managed before the engine let go.

elephantsLater we would discover contaminated racing fuel was the most likely culprit. This was probably the most disheartening rally either of us had ever done! All those weeks of preparation, including a testing roll for me in another rally car, and then a really long recce, all for nothing! Both Raaji and I disappeared early from the rally, neither in the mood to face people questioning our workmanship or Raajis driving. You really do get tired of explaining after a while.

Round 4 – Nakuru Rally

With the engine still not ready Raaji broke the news to me that we wouldn't be going to Nakuru. As I already had the time booked off work I was contemplating picking up my camera and going along to take photos.... And then Marcus, who produces the official TV footage for the championship, approached me and asked me to do some interviews. And so I agreed. It was a fun day of shoving a microphone into competitors faces at inopportune moments and I think it made for some good interviews... But damn, I really missed sitting in a rally car!

Round 5 - The Safari Rally

safari rallyRaaji and I agreed that, in order to save our sponsorship, this was the one we had to win. Two really good days of recce, a car that had been meticulously worked on for weeks prior to the rally (it did help that the car was mechanically perfect after Voi) and two hungry individuals.

The ceremonial start was chaos as the new organisers made errors which caused completely unnecessary stress for the top crews. There was even some comedy going on - the Vice President was invited to flag off the top crews but he could only make it early in the day. So the organisers decided to hold a "fake" ceremonial start for him. This meant the top crews had to arrive some 5 hours earlier than the official start time.... And then the reigning champ, Carl "Flash" Tundo had the indignity of getting stuck on the ramp when it broke, with the VP watching on!

super specialAfter a super special stage in town our cars returned to parc ferme for the night and, 7 hours after getting dressed, we were finally allowed out of our fireproof gear... All for 2.2km of rallying!

Day 2 dawned, a new day and less stress for us. I cocked up in the first stage with a late note, resulting in a puncture and a bent arm on our Evo. Then the second stage was cancelled when the top 5 cars, us included, met a Maasai wedding that was taking place! The third stage of the day was a repeat of the stage we had retired on back in February and both Raaji and I were eager to see service, so we took it easy..... And still went 4th fastest!

oil filterAt first service we were both met with a lot of smiles! With the arm replaced and tempers cooled Raaji and I headed out to the next loop of stages lying 5th overall. That very next stage would be one of attrition... Both Ian Duncan and Flash Tundo would retired, which meant we should have been elevated to third overall....... Except we, too, retired! An innocuous rock punched a hole in our oil filter and forced us out of the rally with yet another broken engine!

Round 6 - Kisumu Rally

The scene of our first ever podium 12 months before. I had questioned the expense behind going to a rally so far away (8 hours drive from Nairobi!) but as it is our teams home rally there really is no question - we are doing Kisumu and we ARE going to finish it...... For the next exciting installment of our 2013 saga, do read mu next bog here…