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Sidi: The Safari Rally Has Been Diluted

Sidi: The Safari Rally Has Been Diluted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Report By: HUSSEIN JIVA

Prior to being known for his prudent yet affectionate and knowledgeable banging in of motorsport stories for Kenyan media, Abdul Sidi was a rally navigator, sitting shotgun beside Peter Hays. He was reluctantly thrusted into the rallying scene, with limited technical know-how on the navigational prerequisites. “Everything and anything a co-driver could get wrong, I did! From calls coming too early to too late, from wrong calls to not conveying accurate instructions,” he shared. Fast-forward over three decades now and the once rookie has established Abdul Sidi Rally Academy (ASRA) to share the gospel of rallying with the current and future crop of talent. Sidi, who has on countless occasions enjoyed the raw and unrehearsed moments from the front row, takes us down memory lane and also touches on Kenya’s current rallying scene.

Abdul Sidi is a household name in Kenya’s motorsport fraternity, but who is he as a person?

I have always been sporty, having played football, cricket, squash and volleyball in school tournaments. I started rallying at a very late age of 35 years. The sport brought me a high profile I didn’t expect. To be honest, what I have achieved with my limited education – up to form one in high school – is something I always thank God for. Not only have I worked with the drivers and other professionals in the top echelons of the rallying scene, I have earned respect as a motorsports writer from media houses not only in Kenya, but across the continent and the world. Aside from rallying, I have been involved as a Transport Co-ordinator for productions such as Tomb Raider, Nowhere in Africa and The Constant Gardener.

So, how did your love affair with motorsports begin?

I was not prepared for this long journey; Ian Duncan suggested that I should navigate Peter Hays in one of the rallies. I had never seen or touched the pace and rally notes. Reluctantly, I agreed to do the Coca Cola Rally – a 1,800 kilometers stretch over one night and two days. We finished in 8th position. That marked the beginning of my affair with the sport, one I have enjoyed for over 25 years. During my time, I navigated Kenya champions, Patrick Njiru and Azar Anwar, among other leading drivers. I navigated multiple African Rally Champion,  Satwant Singh of Zambia in Uganda as well as the FIA World Group N Champion, Gregoire de Mevius of Belgium.

Your love for the sport saw you incept ASRA in 2010, which develops talent into great rally drivers and navigators. Among those you have tutored include Eric Bengi, Tuta Mionki and Joe Muchiri. How has this been received?

Firstly, the name (ASRA) sounds big, but is small in management – I run it on my own. The filing cabinet and all other details and records reside within the capacity of my brain; that is my filing cabinet. I am proud of the Academy’s work; it has produced over 60 students in Kenya, in addition to hundreds of marshals, time keepers and other officials. I have similar number of associates in Rwanda Uganda and Tanzania, apart from a big following from other countries in Africa. Beyond this, provide regular rally updates through social media; it has further gained me a reputation for my work among followers.

Sidi, the Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) is fortunate to have both, seasoned veterans such as Ian Duncan as well as fresh blood like Karan Patel. How can the Championship operate to benefit from experiences and ideas that accompany such drivers?

Kenya has certainly stayed at the top of rally series for a long time, owing in part due to having supreme talent, great drivers and featuring among the latest rally cars. Drivers like Ian Duncan have given the sport an extra mileage in publicity, where fans want to come and meet the legends. It is a co-existence where you can learn from one another. In my capacity, I share my knowledge and experience with whoever it interests.

One of the tumbling blocks for would-be participants in rallies is sponsorship, as the sport is very expensive. Do you fear it could then become an elitist sport, where talent could be lost amidst the cost of

participation?

If the heads of the sport are not able to gather a sponsor to replace the previous ones which ceased to support the championship for last year after 15 years, we are headed for a downhill spiral. The entry list has significantly dropped in numbers; we once witnessed somewhere between 60 to 80 entries. That figure has now thinned to those similar to 17, seen in the latest round of the KNRC. Furthermore, the entry fee has shot up from Kshs 14,000 to Kshs 37,500. These – among other elements – affect
participation.

After a hiatus of 16 years, Kenya is on the verge of regaining its status after securing the 2019 International Automobile Federation (FIA) World Rally Championship candidacy. Just what does that mean for the country?

We should be excited when and if we do get the full World Rally Championship (WRC) status, as pledged by FIA. We used to receive Candidate Events prior to losing the WRC status in 2002. A lot still needs to be done – including greater financial support – so as to be viewed well in the eyes of the FIA Inspectors. Let us continue the push and keep our fingers crossed.

Finally, you – among many others – have been fortunate to witness the Safari Rally in its glorious period, including the 1960s. Your brother, Anwar Sidi, told The Asian Weekly “with the new set of requirements, the (Safari) rally will lose some of its charm… Now, with the changes to be implemented, it may seem like a sprint.” What are your thoughts on this?

I was very fortunate to tackle the Safari Rally when it was a real man and machine competition. It was a marathon back then, not like it is today, being likened to a sprint. Back in its day, the Safari Rally was 5,800 kilometres long, spanning across five days and tough terrain. Now, it has been diluted to a mere two days of competition with a total mileage is less than 500 kilometres on a fixed circuit. It has changed; I haven’t watched a rally proper in over two years.

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