There are hard-core grandpas, and then there is Sobieslaw Zasada. When the flag falls on the rejuvenated Safari Rally this weekend Sobieslaw Zasada will be one of the starters of this world championship event. At 91 years old he will become the oldest driver to compete in the World Rally Championship (WRC), beating the previous record by ten years.
Sobieslaw Zasada is no rookie though, having won no fewer than three European rally titles and five Polish national championships. He has competed at the WRC level on six occasions, four of which were on the Safari Rally. His return to the world stage comes 24 years after his last competitive outing. On his last Safari Rally he drove a Mitsubishi Lancer to 12th place with his wife, Ewa, serving as co-driver. In the 2021 event he will pilot a Ford Fiesta in the RC3 division.
His best finish was a second place at the 1972 Safari. The nonagenarian remembers the event: “A strong memory is my accident in 1972, which made me lose a lot of time. I was then overtaken by three factory Fords, but soon after I managed to overtake two of them: Vic Preston Jr and Timo Mäkinen, the leading competitors of these times. Finally, I took second and the winner was Hannu Mikkola, driving a Ford.”
When asked why he is returning to the event the Polish driver said: “I’ve always found the Safari to be a fantastic rally. I have already competed in it eight times – the last time in 1997. I am very curious to see what this rally looks like in its present form and that’s why I decided to go. I was a factory driver of Steyr Puch, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-Benz as the only driver from the Eastern countries. In this year’s rally, I am simply an amateur. I’m going to see what it looks like now. I also have very interesting memories of meeting Polish people, because many Poles have lived in Kenya. My goal is purely to reach the finish line.”
The Safari Rally was considered the most grueling round of the WRC. The tracks were rock-strewn in places, making it a car-breaking affair, and deep mud pits in others, which posed a constant challenge for drivers. On top of the tough roads teams had to contend with public vehicles and wildlife on the routes. Many top teams often hired helicopters to warn drivers of impending danger on the road ahead. Check out some of the most memorable moments from the the Safari Rally before the race was stopped in 2002.