Finland’s Tapio Laukkanen on Friday continued his winning ways by taking the overnight lead of the 65th edition of Kenya’s round of the African Rally Championship as drama unfolded in the event.
Jassi Chatthe, who looked set to take one-second overnight lead, was among several leading drivers who were penalised for taking a short cut in one of the stages.
The drivers were caught on camera using the latest tracking equipment acquired by the Motor Sports Governing Body prior to the start of the Safari Rally.
The penalty for taking a short cut is a massive ten minutes. Others demoted for the same reason were Kenya’s Manvir Baryan, Baldev Chager, Asad Khan, Uganda’s Duncan Mubiru, Yasin Nasser, Hassan Alwi and Burundi’s Christakis Fitidis.
Subsequently, Carl Tundo moved up to second place while Ian Duncan took the third position. By the time of going to press yesterday, there were indications of several drivers trying to appeal against the penalty.
Laukkannen, who is yet to win the Safari Rally after two attempts, is now almost a minute ahead of Tundo and another two minutes ahead of Duncan with four more stages remaining.
“We took it easy in the last stage after leading for most of the way. The stages are very dusty and there was no need to take any extra risks. I am enjoying it and praying for a great day tomorrow in our Subaru Impreza,” said Laukkanen’s navigator, Gavin Laurence.
In yet another incident, Don Smith, the reigning African champion, declined to take part in the rally at the last minute, citing technical issues in the manner the start order was conducted by organisers.
Quoting FIA Rules and by virtue of being the defending ARC, Smith said he deserved to start a lot higher than the 33rd place that was accorded to him by the organisers.
An official of the rally, who sought anonymity because he is not authorised to talk on the matter, said organisers who handled the seeding system could better had they followed the right procedures prior to the start of the rally. Smith was understood to be looking seeking intervention from the world motor sports governing body.
In fourth place, Jessy Muna Singh of Zambia, driving a Subaru Impreza, is the best-placed foreign driver.
Meanwhile, the Sports Cabinet Secretary Hassan Wario and Kenya Motor Sports Federation Chairman Phineas Kimathi will appear before the Parliamentary Budget Committee on Monday to defend their proposal for the government to sponsor Kenya’s bid to have the Safari Rally back in the World Rally Championship series.
Speaking Friday during the ceremonial flag-off the 65th Safari at the KICC, Wario said the government was committed to supporting the return of the Safari Rally to the World Rally Championship.
Last year, the government wrote to the WRC Promoter promising total support. Saturday’s action will take cars through four more competitive stages before the rally finishes at the Afraha Stadium in Nakuru, where the first car is expected at 4pm.