11 Facts You Need To Know About The Safari Rally

Learn more about the Safari Rally through the lens of Kenyan photographer Mohamed 'Mo' Amin.

By Mohamed Amin Foundation

Rauno Aaltonen & Lofty Drews (1981) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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#1: The toughest rally in the world

Every Easter Kenya would be at centre stage for arguably the toughest rally in the world: The Safari Rally. This became a testing ground for reliability in production cars, as most times 90% of the entrants would not make it to the finish ramp. 

Zully Remtulla & Nizar Jivani (1975) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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#2: A drive through East Africa

The rally crosses through East Africa, leaving its victims along the way: broken down, stuck in the mud or fighting to cope with the cruel heat of Africa. 

Robin Ulyate & Ivan Smith (1974) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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#3: The distance

The rally route varies from year to year and averages 3,000 to 4,000 kilometres in distance. Initially, the rally used to start in Kenya, passed through Tanzania and Uganda and came back into Kenya to finish in Nairobi. After 1974, the rally was staged within the borders of Kenya. However, the gruelling nature of this rally was not tamed at all; it was just as challenging for both car and driver.

President Kenyatta waits for the next Safari Rally car (1975) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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#4: The finish line

Nairobi would be the start and finish point for the rally. The iconic Kenyatta International Conference Centre was the stage for the flag off and the finish to welcome the drivers. 

Bjorn Waldegard & Hans Thorszelius (1978) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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#5: The ultimate test for the driver and his car

The route was littered with hazards; from wildlife, fine dust clogging the cars and blinding the drivers, to man-sized boulders that would punish both drivers and tore off the suspensions of vehicles.

Jean-Francois Piot & Jacques Jaubert (1974) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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#6: African roads

African roads are not for the faint-hearted. You had to have strong willpower to brave the course, besides driving like a bat out of hell! Ironically, one could never really prepare for the Safari Rally.

Andrew Cowan & Klaus Kaiser (1980) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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#7: Rainy season

The annual event was held right in the middle of the rainy season in Kenya. Drivers had to navigate through swelling rivers, flooded roads, black-cotton covered trails, as torrential rain pounded down. Rain and mud not only claimed the vast majority of cars lost in the Safari Rally, but also the lives of some drivers and spectators.

Mahesh M. Patel & Shirish Patel (1978) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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Some years the route would be dry allowing lots of teams to finish. On the other hand, some years would see terrible flooding, so much so that stages had to be re-routed or cancelled outright. Drivers would sometimes have to fight it out for hours over a section that would otherwise have taken just a few minutes.

Mohamed Amin films the East African Safari Rally (1979)Mohamed Amin Foundation

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#8: Mo Amin

Mo Amin would document the rally 26 times. His archive includes more than 100,000 photographs of the event. 

Prem & Pauru Choda (1975) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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#9: What's in the name

Originally named the 'Coronation Rally' in honour of Queen Elizabeth II, the event name was later changed. Since 1974, it has been known as the Safari Rally.

Rauno Aaltonen & Lofty Drews (1979) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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#10: Along came the legends

Some of the world's greatest drivers would come together for the Safari Rally. The first Safari Rally - or "Coronation Rally" - was won by Allan Dix and Johnny Larsen in a VW Beetle. Later, more local drivers would show off their skills and go on to become Kenyan legends. 'The Unsinkable Seven' was the nickname given to the drivers and co-drivers of the seven out of eighty-four cars that made it to the finish line of the 1963 Rally. This was the first time that the Rally was included as a qualifying round for the RAC World Rally Championship. One of the drivers was Joginder Singh, known as the 'Flying Sikh', as he was the first man to win the Safari Rally three times and the first Sikh driver ever to win an international rally.

Ove Andersson & Arne Hertz (1975) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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#11: Short break

In 2021, the Safari Rally returned to Kenya following a 19-year hiatus. In 2002, the Rally was removed from the World Rally Championship calendar but, following the success of its return, it is due to continue until at least 2023.

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