Thursday | 01 Apr 2021

Dawn at Kilimanjaro – the story of a legendary WRC image

It is one of world motorsport’s most iconic photographs and a timeless classic.

Ian Duncan’s Toyota Celica GT-Four ST185 flies high over a crest at the 1993 Safari Rally in Kenya. The snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak at almost 5900 metres, looms above the car across the border in Tanzania.

An azure sky arcs over the snow and parched earth below, while two Maasai villagers stand roadside looking on.

The image was the work of brilliant photographer Reinhard Klein, from the McKlein agency. The man who attended every Safari Rally from 1978 until the event left the WRC in 2002 takes us behind the scenes of a masterpiece.

Q. Reinhard, explain how you captured this remarkable image?
A. This picture was done in testing and not the real rally. Ian did the testing in Africa for Toyota, which wanted pre-event coverage to heat up the excitement for the Safari. It asked the rally team to help as it was down there anyway with practice cars and test cars, so why not combine the film and photo team to catch them when they drive up and down the roads?

Reinhard Klein

Q. So it was a promotional shot?
A. Exactly. Marion Bell-Andersson (wife of Toyota Team Europe boss Ove) was in charge of the film team. Toyota did this on many events, also so they had material to use once the rally was over. In those days it was taking so much time to be fast for daily newspapers, so they prepared photography in advance. When they had success, they just pushed the button on the advertisements.

Q. Were you familiar with this location?
A. I knew Kenya quite well and I knew the ultimate Kilimanjaro shot was one Toyota wanted. The road used to be called the Pipeline Road. It was dead straight and came from Kilimanjaro up to the main Mombasa road. Today it is brilliant Tarmac.

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Q. It’s a dramatic place…..
A. It’s pure Africa. In Africa, you can do something with animals and you can do something with Kilimanjaro. The mountain is normally only visible early in the morning, from about 06.30 to 08.30. Normally it is clear then, but at Easter time in April, the rainy season is coming slowly and quite a bit of clouds are coming so it is covering over quite early in the morning. You have to be in the location early.

Q. How did you prepare?
A. We came the evening before and stayed near to the mountain, close to the Ambroseli National Park. We checked the location and there was that one brow that I knew. In the rally, in open traffic, it couldn’t really be taken flat out because the drivers couldn’t see on the other side what’s coming. In the morning we basically closed the road. In Africa you don’t need to close the road, you just have to be careful that nobody is coming, which you can do with a hand sign. Ian went flat out to fly properly. On the rally they would not even take off. The difference was maybe only 20kph but that made the difference for the picture.

Video: Safari Rally Kenya

Q. How did the Maasai become involved?
A. The ultimate trick was to get the Maasai to stand beside the road. Of course, they wanted to get paid a little, but the problem was they were scared when the car was coming flat out. Normally they are used to vehicles travelling at 50kph. This one was doing 170kph so when the car approached, they ran away! We said we haven’t done the photo yet because you ran away, but they said you pay for one photograph only. Then we had to negotiate again. We had to do a few photos and pay them every time. They had to get used to the speed, stand in the right location and not run away. It took a few attempts but finally we got the whole thing set up. The Maasai were used to the speed, they stayed in the spot, they knew they were safe, the car jumped properly and Kilimanjaro was in brilliant sunshine.

Q. And the results were amazing……
A. It was incredible footage that was used all over the world – and still is. It made a lot of publicity for the Safari and for rallying itself. It’s one of my favourite photographs. Normally you just go to a place and something happens, but this was basically more of a studio-type plan then just action that you catch.

• Pictures by McKlein Photography