Safari Rally legends honoured

Monday, June 12th, 2023 11:30 | By
Pauruchistry Choda (right) reacts after receiving a recognition award from Sports CS Ababu Namwamba during the 70th Anniverasry Safari Rally Dinner at Safari Park on Saturday. PHOTO/Edwin Otieno
Pauruchistry Choda (right) reacts after receiving a recognition award from Sports CS Ababu Namwamba during the 70th Anniverasry Safari Rally Dinner at Safari Park on Saturday. PHOTO/Edwin Otieno

The departed and surviving Safari Rally legends have been acknowledged for their distinguished service to the nation following a nostalgic occasion to mark the 70th anniversary celebrations of the fabled event.

Safari’s late legends Shekhar Mehta, Joginder Singh and Prem Choda were among those honored posthumously and their plaques presented to their immediate family members.

Mehta, a five times Safari Rally winner back in the day, had his plaque received by his wife and former navigator Yvonne Mehta.

The legendary Ann Taeith, who became the first woman to win a round of the KNRC in 1984 spoke on behalf of Women In Motorsports while Mike Kirkland addressed the occasion; representing the male legends.

Taeith narrated how Safari transformed from a 6000km marathon and endurance event to literally a race.

“I would like to thank my navigator Sylvia King who has inspired so many women in Kenya. Back in the 1970s, there were not many women involved in motorsports and no African woman I can think of until Orie Rogo Manduli came to the fore. Sylvia (King) and I did many Safaris, many championships and many club rallies. We regularly won the KMSC Rallies in fairly standard cars,” said Taeith, who retired in her maiden Safari in 1971with Ann McHaedy.

Kirkland, on his part, revisited his encounters with Eric Cecil aka “Bwana Safari” who was the leading light in the founding of the 1953 Coronation Safari Rally which he became a past chairman.

Kirkland: “Eric Cecil provided the best fun of our lives and we will forever be indebted to him. Today, I’m wearing a jacked presented to me by Mr Cecil; he truly deserves our respect.”

Sports Cabinet Secretary Dr Ababu Namwamba was the chief guest of during inaugural ceremony flanked by Safari Rally CEO Phineas Kimathi, a legend in his own right.

“This is a real feel of 70 incredible years of Safari and as we continue to walk down the memory lane, we take this opportunity to recognize all individuals who have written this history with the passion that befits this iconic Safari. I would like to instruct that the Safari legends event be an annual ceremony,” CS Ababu remarked.

The most dedicated Safari couple of all time- the late Prem and his wife Pauruchistry Choda -also got recognition for their indefatigable driving and gusto for the old type endurance Safari.

Prem passed on in 2020 but his award as a Safari stalwart of yore was posthumously delivered to his wife in the colorful occasion held at Safari Park hotel where the 2002 WRC Safari started before being struck off from the FIA calendar for nearly two decades.

The Choda couple captivated the nostalgic Safari world in the 1970s and 80s competing in more than 10 Safari Rally events through to the late 1980.

Others honored included previous Safari champions among them 2003 Safari winner Glen Edmunds, Carl “Flash” Tundo (five times winner), multiple winner Baldev Chager and Ian Duncan who was the last Kenyan to win the WRC version of the event outright in 1994.

Tundo senior, Frank, also joined the motorsports family in Nairobi for the auspicious occasion which also featured the likes of Mo Verjee, all-rounder Steve Anthony and two times Kenya champion Alastair Cavenagh.

Patrick Njiru, the greatest black indigenous driver of all time wowed the occasion when he recounted the glory days and individuals who made Safari special to many in Kenya and overseas.

The occasion also recognized foreign legions like Rauno Aaltonen and Bjorn Waldegard who set the mood for the adventure that is today’s Safari.

Aaltonen (born 7 January 1938), also known as “The Rally Professor”, is a Finnish former professional rally driver who competed in the World Rally Championship and Safari events throughout the 1970s.

 The “Flying Finn” became part of the Safari Rally’s heritage, and a brand name amongst foreign drivers in each edition since 1962 with the exception of races he stayed out of until his last Safari outing in 1987.

Aaltonen savoured the privilege to address the gathering virtually from his Finnish home.

The Safari of old has evolved to fit the modern-day WRC, but its character remains with challenging closed dirt roads, stunning picture-postcard scenery and exotic wildlife.

The 70th edition of Safari will count towards the seventh round in the 2023 Federation Internationale de ‘I Automobile (FIA) World Rally Championship (WRC) and will be centred on Nairobi and Naivasha from June 22-25.

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