Rally champion returns to confront punishing Safari – aged 91 

  • Sobieslaw Zasada competes at tough Safari Rally Kenya aged 91
  • Pole becomes the oldest FIA World Rally Championship competitor
  • Triple European champion returns to action after 24-year absence
  • Zasada drives new Ford Fiesta Rally3 in support class
  • Images available at https://bulldrive.redbull.com/fl/1U06VvfvxB

One of rallying’s greats from yesteryear returns to tackle the iconic Safari Rally Kenya (24 - 27 June) – at the age of 91

Three-time European champion Sobieslaw Zasada will face off against drivers almost 70 years his junior at the gruelling four-day African classic, which returns to the FIA World Rally Championship after 19 years away.

 Zasada will become the oldest competitor to start a WRC round. His greatest successes pre-dated the championship’s 1973 launch when the holder of the European title was regarded as de facto world champion.

The Pole is undaunted by one of the world’s toughest rallies. He faces 320km of competition across the vast Great Rift Valley plains near Lake Naivasha – home to zebras, giraffes, antelope and wildebeest. “Of course, this is a huge challenge and my goal is purely to reach the finish line,” he admitted.

Fast gravel roads will send speeds soaring towards 200kph in places. In others, cars will be reduced to near walking pace as drivers pick a cautious route over rock-strewn tracks.

And with Kenya still in its wet season, torrential downpours can transform dry and dusty special stages into glutinous mudbaths and raging torrents in minutes.

During a distinguished career Zasada won the European title in 1966, 1967 and 1971 and finished runner-up on three more occasions. He was an official driver for Steyr Puch, Porsche, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

He has tackled the Safari eight times previously, finishing second in 1972 in a Porsche 911S. His last competitive drive was 24 years ago when he finished 12th in Kenya alongside his wife, Ewa, in a Mitsubishi Lancer.

“I’ve always found the Safari to be a fantastic rally. I’m going back because I’m very curious to see what this rally looks like in its present form. It’s about the challenge,” enthused Zasada, whose grandson, Daniel Chwist, is also on the entry list.

Zasada will steer a Ford Fiesta Rally3 managed by M-Sport Poland. The Safari will be the biggest test yet for a new-category model which made its WRC debut just two months ago in Croatia.

His Safari memories date back to 1969, when the rally was very different to the current format. Competitors drove flat out on roads that remained open to public traffic and negotiated 6000km of competition in five days.

“They were very difficult rallies,” he recalls. “In the longest Safari Rally in 1972, which was 6480km long, I finished second. The winner was over nine hours behind the time schedule. It was driving for three days and three nights without any break. Drinking tea helped me a lot!

“I think those rallies were three or even four times more difficult than the current ones in terms of endurance and condition.”

The previous oldest WRC competitor was Norway’s Leif Vold-Johansen who drove Rallye Monte-Carlo in 1994 aged 82 and returned 12 months later as a co-driver.

The Safari marks the sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. It starts in Nairobi on Thursday (24 June) and finishes in Naivasha three days later.


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