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Death of sport’s supremo dampens spirits at the end of an exciting season

Last year started on a good note, with the Safari Rally, which was the second Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) event, getting reinstated to the Africa Rally Championship (ARC) as the continental championship’s second event following a two-year hiatus.

This was a step in the right direction in the federation’s bid to have the Safari return to the World Rally Championship (WRC). Safari was the only WRC event staged in Africa until it ceased to be so in 2002 after International Motorsport Federation (FIA) first expressed its dissatisfaction with the Kenyan event in 1997 when the country was rocked by violence sparked by the General Election.

The government has already committed to pay a promoter fee of Sh100 million for the WRC while the Kenya Motorsport Federation (KMSF) procured a Tag Heur timing system, which was used in the Safari.

The country might get a WRC candidature event by 2019 as FIA president Jean Todt is in support of the move. Kenyan drivers have dominated the ARC event for three years, with Multiple Racing Team’s (MRT) Manvir Baryan clinching the 2017 title after he raced to four wins of the eight-legged series and finishing third in Safari Rally to collect 15 points. Jasi Chatthe won the championship in 2015 while Don Smith followed up with another victory in 2016.

Meanwhile, Kenya Airways East African Safari Classic Rally produced another Kenyan winner in Carl ‘Flush’ Tundo who tied at the top with Briton Richard Jackson, in the first joint win since its inception in 2003, after a grueling nine-day competition that was 4,000kmlong.

The event however suffered a blow following the demise of its director, Jaideep Singh (JS) Vohra, who succumbed to injuries he suffered when his vehicle rolled along the Amboseli-Namanga road while on his way to watch a leg in Tanzania.

A pupil was also knocked down and died by a safari rally car in Taita Taveta dampening the mood of the event. Meanwhile, KMSF’s 2017 season was not the federation’s best as it blew hot and cold on matters performance and served highs and lows in equal measure when it came to organisation.

The federation’s flagship event, Kenya National Rally Championship’s (KNRC) title race remained wide open to the last event held in Nakuru on the second week of December. Ian Duncan maintained his lead despite finishing second at the Nakuru event and might be crowned champion although it is unclear whether Kajiado Rally scheduled for January will count in this season’s final score.

Unlike last season where Tapio ‘Flying Finn’ Laukkanen was declared the overall winner with a round to spare, the lead changed hands several times as Baryan won the first leg in Mombasa to take the first lead.

Tables turned in the second leg, the Safari Rally, as the Flying Finn raced to victory for 38 points to place third while Duncan took the lead. Laukkanen flew away with the third round staged in Eldoret in May to go top of the standings at 63 points, three more than second placed Tundo and six clear of Duncan, who lay third.

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