Eldoret Rally is all about catching the ‘Flying Finn’ Tapio


Raaji Bharij navigated by Jasneil Ghatau in action at a previous KNRC event. PHOTO/Courtesy
Raaji Bharij navigated by Jasneil Ghatau in action at a previous KNRC event. PHOTO/Courtesy

Championship leader and Flying Finn Tapio Laukannen is the overwhelming favourite to zoom to victory at this weekend’s KCB Eldoret Rally as top drivers navigate the scenic stages in Elgeyo Marakwet and Uasin Gishu counties.

Tapio will put further daylight between him and the chasing pack led by titleholder Jassi Chatthe at the top of the Kenya National Rally Championship if he seals back-to-back wins in the circuit as expected.

Two-time KNRC champion, Baldev Chager conceded the former Finland and British titleholder has set stratospheric standards that local bigwigs are struggling to match even with ultra modern top-of-the-range machines.

“Every time anyone tries to catch up with him, he pulls away. I don’t really know where his limits are or how much faster he can go from what he is doing. The good thing is he has made us wake up. I think generally everybody has started driving faster just to get closer to Tapio more than anything else,” said Chager.

Asad ‘Kalulu’ Khan who finished third in Eldoret a decade ago described Laukannen as a ‘superman’ and the man to beat currently on the KNRC front.

“He is a very good driver having already won championships back home Finland and Britain. He is simply WRC material and has swept the ground with all whenever he had a good run,” he added

Tapio led from start to finish in Eldoret last year relegating youngster Rajbir Rai to second.

The Flying Finn who has wowed crowds in his Subaru Impreza GVB13 R4, has won three of five events held so far; season opener Kajiado, Wundanyi and the last round in Nanyuki, ending the domination of Mitsubishi EVO machines that had ruled the KNRC unchallenged in the last three seasons.

Chager emerged the victor in Kisumu with champion Jaspreet Chatthe defending the coveted Safari Rally title when Tapio suffered mechanical problems.

The Finn is enjoying a four point cushion over African champion Chatthe at the summit of the KNRC with three events to go.

“We have to keep on pushing as any mistake will see Chatthe cling to the title,” Tapio stressed.

-EVO grips-

Chager who is also known as the ‘Flying Singh’ believes he has come to grips with the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution10 R4 car which is an improved version of the Group N he has driven for more than two seasons.

“We are not doing too well on points as we haven’t finished two events this year. So the essence for us is to go out there and do the best we can. I’m quite happy we gave the new car a finish at least in the last rally.

“We were fighting for second at the time we got punctures right at the end and finished fifth but that’s rallying. So we look forward to approaching Eldoret with the new car, it’s quite enjoyable now, getting the feel of it more and more,” the former Subaru diehard added.

Chager is also happy he has not had any teething problems with his new toy thus far.

“Safari retirement was as a result of a rock in the intercooler. Voi was entirely my fault when we fell down that ravine. Last rally it went spotless. Our boys have prepared it really well and it’s just up to the driver,” he explained.

The rally will be flagged off outside KCB Eldoret branch on Uganda Road at 7am on Saturday after which cars will tackle stages near Eldoret as they head towards the University of Champions, Iten.

Governors Alex Tolgos and Jackson Mandago will flag-off the event in Eldoret. The designated spectator stage will be centred on Chemweno in Moiben.

This year’s Eldoret rally has attracted two drivers from Uganda in Kepher Walubi and  Duncan ‘Kikankane’ Mubiru.

KNRC STANDINGS AFTER ROUND 5 NANYUKI

  1. Tapio Laukannen 104
  2. Jassi Chatthe 100
  3. Ian Duncan 72
  4. Rajbir Rai 61
  5. Carl Tundo 51
  6. Baldev Chager 49
  7. Onkar Rai 48
  8. Manvir Baryan 41
  9. Mahesh Halai 20
  10. Frank Tundo 16

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Story By Mutwiri Mutuota
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