First run in 2003 as the torch bearer for what was the world’s toughest rally, the Safari Classic Rally has now become an institution amongst those rally fans looking for the ultimate challenge in historic rallying. One such thrillseeker is Rajesh Maini, who makes his Safari Classic Rally debut in 2017.
“It was always my dream to do the Safari Rally,” says Rajesh. “I vividly remember being four years old and my dad taking us around the Safari Rally route to catch a glimpse of the classic machines zoom past remote Kenyan villages. We were deeply ingrained with a love for the sport and the world-beaters who visited our country to take on this ultimate rally adventure. The idea that now, as a participant, I can brush competitive shoulders with Safari heroes like Stig Blomqvist who we adored back in the day, and modern day heroes like Ian Duncan, is a dream come true.”
While he has been inspired by the rally frontrunners, Rajesh notes that his primary aim will be to drive sensibly and bring his homebuilt Ford Escort Mark 1 home in one piece, and drive it across the Mombasa finish ramp on December 1.
“The aim for our team will be to finish the Safari Classic, so our team will be driving within conservative limits. As Safari Classic debutantes driving without power steering, a realistic target is to aim at a top twenty finish after nine days of driving. We have even been working out to enhance our upper body strength.”
Rajesh’s dream to take part in the world’s toughest marathon historic rally was conceived many years ago, but the project really began to take shape while supporting Nish Lakhani on the 2013 Safari Classic. The machine chosen to realise Maini’s Safari ambitions is a Ford Escort Mk 1. The car is currently being prepared in the surveyor’s Nairobi workshop.
“I built the Mark 1 at home with the help of Iain Freestone, as the Mark 1s are cheaper with more available parts, which makes them more affordable to run. My Mk 1 is a 1975 example. Built by myself and my home-trained mechanic, Felix Ochieng Dege, I have completed two rallies so far with the Escort (2015 Guru Nanak and 2016 Top Fry 1000).
“It runs on a 2-litre Pinto engine: the basic engine available for this car. With the help of Jim Heather-Hayes, we have managed to fit in MCA suspension. We should be ready to undergo a short performance test program once our preparation is complete, but we will not risk bashing the car during any of the local events, because the classic is now just a few weeks away. We need to be ready!
“We did our last two off-road rallies on tulips to familiarise ourselves with the road book format used by the Classic. Now that we have good knowledge of the navigation process and we are happy with the local roads, our biggest fear is that, should the heavens open, we will be left with no option but to struggle through the course.”
Rajesh’s Mark 1 will run in his traditional orange livery, with sponsorship from USN. “We’re grateful to USN for coming on board as our official partners for the Safari Classic Rally. During the event, we will savour a wide range of USN products, which will be key to our rehydration during this nine-day adventure.
“Key to a good partnership is to remain friends during tense moments. I’m a rally driver who sits and listens to my navigator and team. So we are good friends in and out of the car, which helps in building a cohesive force when it really matters. Taking part in the Safari Classic is an absolute dream come true. I’m just so grateful and appreciative that the opportunity has presented itself.”
More about Rajesh Maini
Kenyan-born Rajesh was schooled in Durham, Great Britain. After full-time education finished, he eventually moved back to Kenya. He started his racing career with a 4-door Range Rover on the 2010 Rhino Charge in 2010. The following year brought a Kenya National Rally Raid series campaign using a two-door Range Rover: “The Flying Jalebi”. Rajesh made his local Autocross Championship debut in a Rage buggy during 2011 before graduating to the Kenya National Rally Championship several years later. Rajesh is a true all-round motorsports personality!