The Safari Rally is not only one of the oldest rallies in the motorsport calendar but also one of the most difficult ones. Started in 1953 as a celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II it started off as the East African Coronation Rally, which later got renamed to East African Safari Rally in 1960 to eventually get renamed to be simply called Safari Rally in 1974. The Safari Rally was an is known to be one of the toughest rally in the world. Its a combination of hot and humid temperature conditions combined with rocky and extreme rough surfaces that puts a rally car’s mechanicals to extreme tests. It was also one of the longest rallies, spanning over 1,000km; twice the distance of any other rally in the WRC calendar. The Safari Rally was so challenging that it was believed that winning it was an achievement equivalent to three rallies at the same time.
The Safari Rally was a part of the WRC calendar till 2002, after which it was removed due to lack of financial support and organisation. But while it was the part of the World Rally Championship, no other driver came out more successful than Shekhar Mehta. The Ugandan-born rally driver of Indian decent won the Safari Rally five times and took a place on the podium 11 times in total. Mehta started his career behind the wheel of a BMW, but soon switched over to Datsun cars. His first Safari Rally victory came in 1973 behind the wheel of a Datsun 240Z. The time between 1979 – 1982 was where Shekhar Mehta was at his career’s best, clinching four back-to-back win behind the wheel of the Datsun 160J from 1979 – 1982. It wasn’t until rally legend Ari Vatanen came into contention to break his winning streak in 1983.
Shekhar Mehta was one of the finest drivers in the glory days of rallying. His stint with Datsun cars brought him five wins in the Safari Rally and one in the Cyprus Rally while bringing him a podium in Rally Codasur, twin at the Acropolis Rally and three times at the Rallye Côte d’Ivoire.
Shekhar Mehta hung his racing overalls after his near-fatal crash at Rallye des Pharaons, Egypt while driving a Peugeot. With his professional rallying career behind him, Mehta took various administrative positions at the FIA, eventually becoming the president of the FIA Rally commission in 1997. Mehta passed away from health problems in 2006 in London after leaving a long glorious legacy behind. There hasn’t been anyone as successful as him in the Safari Rally, and till the rally is re-instated in WRC and there is someone to match the talent and endurance of Mehta, his record is there to stay. If you would like to read more about him, here’s a beautiful blog post that goes into all sort of details.