Although the cars participating in the Kenya Airways Safari Classic Rally come from the early 1970s when automobile and communication electronics were in their infancy, all of them will be equipped with two systems that will help to ensure that the rally runs as safely as possible.
The first of these is a system provided by Soltic Africa. They are a company with its headquarters in Nairobi who have been providing tracking services for commercial companies in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Somalia for the past five years. They are experts in fleet management, vehicle tracking and fuel monitoring and work with vehicles ranging from motorcycles up to buses and 24-wheel trucks.
Each rally car will have a Soltic system installed that comprises three units with each unit having a SIM card from different telephone service providers thus ensuring that contact is always maintained. The system has a GPS receiver and the data from that is passed back to the rally office by the cell phone link. The rally officials can thus know the real time location of every car in the rally. In addition, the system is programmed to give several alerts to the monitoring team. For example, they will be able to know whether a vehicle is in motion or has stopped and whether the engine is running or not. One of the alerts also draws attention of the team to any “route violations” if somebody strays from the official route – or tries to take a short cut.
The rally car is fitted with a panic button that the crew may press if any one of several things happen. If they have a crash, the system will immediately know that something unusual has taken place and alert the Clerk of the Course. Then if the crew – or someone else – presses the panic button on that car, he can dispatch rescue services, including the event’s medical helicopter, to the scene. The panic button can also be used to tell the monitoring team that the car has serious mechanical problems or has retired.
Soltic will have an experienced and highly qualified team of experts out on the event to look after the equipment and to run the monitoring facility alongside the rally officials. Since the very nature of the Safari Classic is to cover large distances, Soltic will have three such teams out on the event so that as each day of rallying starts, everything will be in place to monitor the rally cars from the moment they start until the last car reaches the finish.
The second system that will be fitted to all the rally cars is a Proximity Warning Device that its South African developers describe as “an electronic rear view mirror”. One of the major problems with rallies using loose surfaced roads in dry conditions is that, should one car catch up with another, the driver in front is frequently blissfully unaware that there is anyone behind him. With all the cars fitted with PWDs, when two cars are within two hundred metres of one another, the two interact by wireless and a green light flashes on the dashboard of both cars. Thus the slower car in front is made aware of the faster car behind. In the event that the car in front is slow in yielding, then the car behind can push a button that will activate a loud siren in both cars. This explains the device’s nickname of “The Screamer”. Experience on South African rallies shows that this last resort is very rarely called into use.
It is the hope of the rally organisers that both these systems will make the rally safer for all concerned.