Legendary Safari Rally driver Aaltonen honoured, happy to return
Living legend Rauno Aaltonen has savored an early opportunity to reflect and celebrate moments which forged a significant legacy for the fabled Safari Rally back in the day.
“The Rally Professor”, as fondly referred to as in his active racing years, is back in Kenya for the inauguralSafari Rally Drive; a non-competitive nostalgic event which revs-off on Sunday morning traversing the old routes of 1970s.
Speaking at Kasarani Stadium where he visited the WRC Safari Rally Project and Kenya Motor Sports Federation (KMSF) secretariats, Aaltonen recounted days when the Safari featured a mammoth 7000km on ragged East African terrain.
Aaltonen remarked: “Its 35 years since I was last here, and all those years have been very nice and nostalgic. All the local people have always been kind to me and I only have good memories from Kenya. It was a big surprise to see how much Nairobi has grown over the years; it’s really become a big world city.”
Asked how he relates the olden Safari days to the present-day racing format, Aaltonen quipped: “Well, it’s two different worlds, the number of people living here has more than doubled and when I look around everything is well developed.”
Sporting-wise, Aaltonen explained: “It’s a different sport now, we could start Safari on a Thursday morning and finish on Monday afternoon. It’s really different today, it’s like a sprint. The character of the sport has changed. The world is changing and we have to change with it.”
Aaltonen is in the country for the inaugural Safari Rally Drive 2023 slated for October 1-6 to mark the 70th year anniversary of the fabled event.
The six-day non-competitive drive will retrace some of Safari’s nostalgic routes synonymous with World Rally teams back in the day.
The drive will start in Nairobi and head to Eldoret, Nakuru, Amboseli, Diani, Tsavo and back to Nairobi.
Three decades later, Rauno’s passion for Safari Rally is undiminished, even at 85 years of age.
Before the WRC was established Aaltonen competed in the European Rally Championship. He won the championship in 1965, with Tony Ambrose as his co-driver.