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Tue 19 Mar 2024

How clever strategy fuelled Mäkinen's success on Safari

Victory on this month’s Safari Rally Kenya (28 - 31 March) will require one of the more strategic approaches of the season – and strategy was at the heart of the first of Tommi Mäkinen’s two African wins with Mitsubishi.

Prior to the Mäkinen’s maiden success in 1996, Toyota had been the dominant force on the event, winning four of the previous five editions. Toyota was, of course, out officially for the 1996 season and that opened a window of opportunity for the British-based Ralliart Mitsubishi team.

Still chasing his first world title, Mäkinen’s year had started well with victory on the series opener in Sweden. But there were concerns that the swashbuckling Finn might not be able to temper his speed to the Safari’s car-breaking roads.

In the end, Mitsubishi didn’t need him to. Under the guidance of endurance rally expert team principal Andrew Cowan, the decision was taken to practically give him a new car at every service point.

Every time the team saw the Lancer, a new corner was bolted on and parts were changed. What was effectively a European-specification, gravel-trim Lancer Evo III started the event with new top mounts, a snorkel and a bull bar up front. Mäkinen went at it from the beginning and then watched as his rivals fell away one-by-one.

It was a masterful display to deliver a rare Safari debut win and an exceptional team approach which allowed the sole factory Lancer to fend off the best of the rest.

Image: McKlein