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A mind-boggling look at Tuthill’s Classic Safari Rally prep

The Safari Rally is back and the World Rally Championship is better for it. Except, has it ever been away? Of course, this year was the first time the Safari Rally appeared on WRC’s calendar of events since 2002. Running to a modern-day format may have unsettled a few die-hards but there is still a place for such nostalgia.

The tenth East African Safari Classic Rally is set to run this November and with over 70 entries, the endurance event is going from strength to strength. In fact, the 2021 event has got its seal of approval from none other than Ken Block. The American superstar makes his debut in a Tuthill Porsche 911 alongside Alex Gelsomino.

A significant chunk of Classic Safari entries come courtesy of Tuthill Porsche who are running 16 cars this year. Yes, 16 cars on a single event!

As Tuthill’s motorsport team principal, Andy Brown, explains; Safari preparation is like a massive classic Porsche jigsaw. My first question, it’s definitely 16 cars that Tuthill is looking after?

“They did 17 one year,” Brown quibbed. 

“It’s the servicing and logistics that is the biggest headache. We are going to have 24 service vehicles with two mechanics in each one, so we need to get all those guys lined up.

“Getting all the spares kits ready to go out. They rent big Land Cruisers out there so we have a fleet of those. Then we have wire mesh cages that slot in with all the spares inside.

“24 full spares kits plus a mothership container which restocks every night. Then another container which is a tyre fitting workshop. And damper guys as well.”

All this work is happening now, the half a year before the rally takes place. Summer tests on gravel in Wales will get some novice drivers up to speed while the team will run two tests when they arrive in Kenya for the Classic Safari.

“Pretty much everyone from Tuthill will be going to it, even guys who work in the stores will go out with a parts truck and stuff.

“They have got a pool of contractors that have done the rally for years. A lot of them hold normal jobs but will save their holidays to go out to Safari.

“Normally you would get away with one service car per crew but with new organisers this year they have changed the route so it is more linear.

“We service at every stage, like back in the old days, so we need to have a back-up when the main van can’t get around.

“It’s pretty cool because the crews will get to see some of the countries while they go from stage to stage.”

The Safari Rally is renowned for its rough and unpredictable terrain. It’s hard not to picture the beefed up World Rally Cars from Safari’s original days that had been adapted for the Africa’s rugged environment.

The East African Classic Safari Rally is no different with plenty of modifications required to make it through the 1500 kilometres of competitive rallying.

“Safari requires extra strengthening to the shell itself. There is extra strengthening on the rear torsion bars which is the thing that gets the most abuse on those cars.

“Suspension pick-up points, a bigger capacity fuel tank, and then we modify the floor to carry two spares wheels at the front. We’ll have roo bars front and back and the sump guards are a bit stronger.

“The general mechanics are pretty much the same. We use normal gravel dampers but just set at a higher ride height. All the control arms are pretty much standard gravel spec.

“Everything runs to Appendix K rules but they do make some dispensation for competitors. For example, if you had an axle that kept breaking on a car and you wanted to strengthen it then you can put forward your case and if no competitors object to it then that is fine.”

Tuthill fields an impressive line-up of drivers with Junior WRC champion Patrick Sandell and reigning Classic Safari winner Kris Rosenberger joining Block in Kenya.

The big name additions have created an extra buzz around Tuthill’s headquarters but having a mix of winners and gentlemen crews brings yet more problems to solve.

“Rosenberger, Sandell, and Block will hopefully all be fighting for the win while we also have first-timers running at the back of the 70-entry field. Three minute intervals between each car makes it a long period of time between first car to last car.

“To cover each of our cars properly we’ll have to split into three teams. A team leader will have five or six cars to look after each because it is just too much for one person to manage 16 cars over the whole field.”

All-in-all Tuthill’s Classic Safari effort involves over 100 people working together to ensure their crews have a chance of surviving one of the most challenging rallies left in the world.

A mammoth task that takes engineering and organisational precision and brilliance. But what else would you want from one of the few remaining glimpses into the origins of rally.

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Photos courtesy of McKlein and East African Classic Safari Rally

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