Wed 20 Mar 2024

The man with an envious Safari Rally record

As the Seventies faded into the Eighties, if it was a Safari Rally win you wanted, there was only one man for the job: Shekhar Mehta.

The Kenyan driver remains the most successful in the history of Africa’s longest-standing round of the FIA World Rally Championship – he won it five times. That’s one more than Björn Waldegård and two more than Juha Kankkunen and Colin McRae. Mehta’s first success came in the year the world championship was first introduced, 1973.

He’d finished second on the event two years prior and actually tied the ’73 event with Harry Källström. Mehta’s Datsun 240Z was given the nod for the podium’s top step after he got through the event with less penalties than his rival.

He had to wait a further six years for win number two, but that 1979 success kick-started an unbeaten run of four straight Safari wins. It was also a win which demonstrated Mehta’s pace, patience and tenacity. Twice he got his Datsun 160J stuck in the mud on the slopes of Mount Kenya and twice he extricated it to bring it home ahead of Hannu Mikkola’s Mercedes.

All five of Mehta’s victories came at the wheel of a Datsun, but they weren’t all harmonious. In 1981 his tea-mate Rauno Aaltonen protested a mistake in the roadbook – if that had been upheld he would have won ahead of Shekhar. It wasn’t. But it took three months and the International Court of Appeal in Paris to get that decision.

Mehta had an immense ability to read a road, the conditions and the capabilities of the car he was driving. On top of that, he was very, very fast at the right time.

After retiring, Mehta presided over the WRC Commission before he died in 2006.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM