Q&A with Bjorn Waldegard ahead of Safari Rally
- 21st November 2013, 8:42am
Popularly regarded as one of the world’s greatest rally drivers, Björn Waldegård won the Monte Carlo Rally for Porsche in 1969 and 1970. His career in the World Rally Championship spans from 1973 to 1992 and during that time Waldegård claimed 16 victories, including four wins on the Safari Rally. He has also won the East African Safari Classic twice with the most recent occasion being at the wheel of a Tuthill Porsche 911 in 2011.
We caught up with Waldegård, who celebrated his 70th birthday last week, to find out how he’s been preparing for this year’s event.
Hi Björn, how does it feel to be back in Africa defending Tuthill’s title?
“It feels really great, Africa is like my second home. I’ve been here for about a week now so it’s been a good chance to get used to the humidity of Africa again. The people are always very friendy and it is one of my favourite rallies in the world. Nothing beats it and I will always hold the Safari very dear to my heart. To have Stig (Blomqvist), Gerard (Marcy) and the whole Team Tidö crew with us is going to make this year even more special.”
Have you had much of a chance to test the car ahead of the rally?
“Yes and I can say that this year my car is better than it has even been before. The Tuthill 911s just get better with age. We’ve done about 100 kilometres of testing and we’ve made some small changes to the car, which should make it run even better. But, you know, 100 kilometres is nothing – there are some stages on this rally that are 150 kilometres so no amount of testing can prepare you for the real thing. The 911 is a fantastic machine and Tuthill builds a car that can withstand more than most, which is exactly what you need in Africa.”
What makes this event so special that you keep coming back?
“You know, I retired from professional rallying in 1992 but there’s something about this rally which I can’t let go. There are a lot of reasons: the people, the atmosphere, the challenge and the Tuthill team. There’s no other rally like it and each year there is something different and it always challenges me. Of course, it’s also great to meet old friends who all share a passion for rallying.”
Can you explain why the Safari is regarded as one of the world’s toughest rallies?
“It’s a completely different style of rally to others in Europe – it’s full of long distance stages and the roads are rough like hell. It’s difficult to explain but the terrain in Africa is so unique and every day there is something totally different. The drivers, co-drivers and teams have to be prepared for everything and need to respond quickly to events that happen – which goes some way to explaining why we won with Tuthill in 2011.”
Which stages are you looking forward to most?
“The stages I enjoy most which are far north of Nairobi and aren’t actually included in this year’s route. Some of the stages are similar to those that are on Rally Finland like the first stage on day three which is full of sweeping smooth roads but with some very twisty sections too. Others are more like Greece which is the roughest WRC rally. But really, nothing can prepare you for the Safari – we have volcanic soil, dust, narrow farm roads, grassy tracks, rocky downhill sections and huge river crossings which in 2011 were flooded. Then, of course there are the wild animals. There can be a surprise round every corner."
Finally, what’s the secret to conquering the Safari?
“Well, obviously experience helps more than ever on a rally like this. It’s a lot about mental fitness too, there are drivers that are physically fitter than me and obviously that helps but this rally is different to others. Anything can happen on these roads – there’s wildlife to watch out for and the roads are rough like hell so it just takes one wrong move and it can be the end of the rally. But of course, I can’t tell you the real secret to my Safari success – maybe ask me that question at the end of next week…!”
The 2013 East African Safari Classic will run from 21-29 November.
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