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Fri 15 Mar 2024

When the Brits dominated Safari Rally Kenya

For five out of six years, British drivers could do no wrong on the Safari Rally – Colin McRae and Richard Burns shared the crown as the Kings of Kenya.

For an event that was first run to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, it took Britain a long time to muster a win. Terry Harryman was the first to do it, co-driving Ari Vatanen to the top step of the podium on the 1983 Safari in an Opel Ascona 400. It would be another 14 years before a British driver managed that same feat. And McRae was that man.


The 1995 world champion’s speed had never been in doubt, but the patience required for a Safari win was thought by many to be beyond him. How wrong he proved them. He drove a faultless event in 1997 – the only scare being a late-in-the-day alternator problem which left just enough charge in the car to make service and the finish.


A year on and Burns broke his WRC duck with a win aboard the Mitsubishi Carisma, the Englishman was always in the lead fight and the spent the latter part of the event nursing his lead after his Mitsubishi team-mate Tommi Mäkinen and the factory Subarus dropped out.


McRae’s second win was famous as the first for Ford’s Focus WRC. The M-Sport-engineered machine didn’t miss a beat on an event which the team had feared after troubled outings in Monte Carlo and Sweden.


Frustrated at having missed out on the win in 1999, Burns bounced back with a 2000 success. It wasn’t straightforward though: his Subaru refused to fire after one section, silenced by overheating problems. Burns solved the problem by pouring cold water on the temperature sensor. With the flat-four fooled into starting, he nursed it to service, then made the champagne finish.


Mäkinen won the missing year for Britain (2001) while McRae turned in one of his best ever drives to win a third Safari in 2002. Hounded all the way through by a brilliant Harri Rovanperä Peugeot performance, McRae refused to be rattled and drove his car at his pace to clinch a fifth British win in six years.


Image: McKlein