Safari Classic is unfinished business for Somen

Jonathan Somen, IT entrepreneur and affable star of Kenya’s classic rallying scene, was ultimately disappointed with his final result on the 2015 East African Safari Classic Rally. However, an insatiable craving for our action-packed event has bitten hard and the Classic Car Cup champion of 2014 has decided to come back for more.

“The 2015 Safari Classic Rally ended in disappointment for us,” Somen recalls. “Having just climbed into the top ten and cruising on Tarmac out of Arusha, we had a distributor failure while miles away from our service crew. Changing that part got us back on the road, only to suffer a repeat failure of the replacement on the final day of the rally. We’re treating his year’s Safari Classic Rally as unfinished business.”

Currently leading the 2017 KNRC classic class standings after two rounds, Somen has participated in three editions of the Safari Classic Rally since his 2011 debut. Driven by a hunger for rally competition, and with the mechanical gremlins of 2015 hopefully consigned to history, the AccessKenya founder is aiming for a top ten finish in 2017.

Preparation and testing of a classic Ford Escort Mk 2 for this year’s Safari Classic Rally are going well. Partnered with longstanding co-driver Richard Hechle, the Escort’s first test of 2017 was through Nairobi and the Great Rift Valley on the ARC Safari Rally. It eventually claimed second position in the classic category.

Somen is set to run the Mk2 in the next two rounds of the 2017 Kenyan National Rally Championship in May and June. The Escort will then be stripped and rebuilt ahead of the 2017 Safari Classic, which runs through Kenya and Tanzania from November 23 to December 1, 2017. It will be his fourth entry on this epic event.

The driver’s first encounter with rally cars was watching the Safari when it formed part of the FIA World Rally Championship. “My father was a senior Safari official for about two decades. Starting as a steward for a couple of years, he was later made an official FIA observer. He was also a rally driver in the 1960s and that’s where my introduction to rally competition came from. I went on to serve as a Safari scrutineer in my late teens.”

The inevitable competitive debut came in 2011. “Our first event was the local KNRC Safari Rally in Athi River and Kajaido, where we chalked up a class win on our first outing! After Safari in 2011, we did one other event and made our EA Safari Classic debut the same year. We do bits of the local season to gauge our preparedness for the Safari Classic. I have also done the Rhino Charge for about fourteen years. We finish usually in the top ten – we were tenth last year – and our best finish is fifth overall.”

Somen and Hechle’s connection extends beyond the cockpit. Both hold notable positions at AccessKenya: a longstanding sponsor of the Safari Classic Rally. Company founder Somen is now a non-executive director, while co-driver Hechle is the current MD. Somen has now started another IT company – Eldama Technologies – focusing on delivering cloud solutions to corporates in Kenya.

“As the world’s toughest historic motorsport event, the East African Safari Classic Rally attracts competitors from all over the world,” notes Safari Classic Rally Manager, Pipi Renu, “but there is something very special about welcoming Kenyan rally fans who revelled in the spirit of the original Safari Rally back to the Safari Classic Rally as competitors later in life.

“While our rally is long and gruelling, it is also a wonderfully social event. The challenge of bringing historic rally cars across that finish line after thousands of rally kilometres through Kenya and Tanzania is what true competitors hold dear. Excitement is building as we approach the start of the 8th Safari Classic Rally in Mombasa at the end of November.”

Original story by Samson Ateka