Björn Waldegård: Safari Legend

Safari lost one of its favourite sons this weekend, with the passing of Björn Waldegård.

Waldegård first came to Safari in 1971. New to the world rally stage, he was riding a wave of success that had risen the previous year, with wins in Austria, Sweden and Monte Carlo. Björn’s rally ended early, with an accident in his Porsche 911, but he found a love of Kenya that would dominate his legacy.

Returning to Safari in 1973, Waldegård was foiled again in a Porsche, this time with engine failure. The following year, suspension problems within reach of the flag put his Porsche in second place. A podium for Waldegård and Hans Thorszelius, just half an hour behind Joginder Singh’s dominant Mitsubishi had Waldegård on the path to victory. Next year brought another podium: third place in the Lancia Stratos.

Switching to the works Ford team for 1977, Waldegård clinched his first Safari win. Further wins on Acropolis and the RAC Rally would have made him world champion, had a driver’s title existed at the time. Two years later, Björn did become champion: the first-ever World Rally Champion.

Bjorn’s next Safari win came in 1984, driving the twin-cam Toyota Celica. He repeated the feat in 1986, before the Lancia Deltas arrived. Bjorn’s fourth and final Safari victory in 1990 made him the oldest driver ever to win a World Championship event, aged 46. It would be Björn’s last World Championship rally win: a broken arm on Safari ’92 forced his retirement from professional rallying.

Had Björn’s career ended there, it would still be one of legend. From eighteen Safari starts, Björn claimed seven podiums and four outright wins. Only Shekhar Mehta took more wins on the original Safari, but then came the Safari Classic Rally. Bjorn won the Classic twice, first in 2007 with a Ford Escort and again in 2011 with a Porsche 911: the same model of car he had first rallied in Kenya, forty years before.

What can we say about Waldegård: a name that means so much to so many. Dearly loved by rally fans all around the world but especially here in Kenya, where he is also known as ‘Simba’, the Lion of Safari. Rest in peace, our Great Lion: we will always remember how you inspired us with your passion for rallying through our country. Our thoughts are with Mathias and the family: we are deeply sorry for their loss.

Björn Waldegård: 1943-2014.