When the clock strikes twelve it is not the mute, but the vociferous Ford that awakes in a small garage hidden away from the press in the suburbs of Nairobi. I am the World Rally Car on duty in Kenya.
My driver is the one and only Collin McRae. He is so incredible at his job; I do feel safer with him than any one else. He has driven far better cars than me in his career. His co-driver is Nicky Grist: he is the most experienced out of us three and knows the Kenyan roads inside out.
From Collin’s point of view I have always been mute, almost meek – looking demure in top-of-the-milk white paint and standing on oversized tyres. I have, therefore, been more of a burden than an asset. My three hundred thousand dollar price tag has nothing to attest my performance, so far.
But the Safari Rally is no ordinary rally one would be mad enough to attempt. It was beyond mad. I was about the sanest, most pragmatic, and yet most underrated rally car in history. I had to be underrated, after all the last time Ford won a Championship was fifteen years ago; hardly amusing. But today I, the new Ford, am thinking differently: I want to win and only win. Overconfident title contenders such as Mitsubishi, Subaru and Peugeot have always been up there in front of me. Today will be my chance to prove my worth.
After tooling myself up, with tyres rumbling, engine and exhaust echoing I set off on the final of the three days of competition at the Safari rally. I am in for the most gruelling, heart-wrecking time of my three-month life. I survived the first two days quite well. Now I was in the third place fighting it out for the coveted first place. The day was taking me down south towards the Maasai Mara. Collin McRae started today well, setting the fastest time on the long opening stage and even kick-starting the suggestion that he might be able to hunt down the two leading Peugeots.
But then on Stage seven, disaster struck: we clipped a large rock on the inside of a bend and shattered my left-rear wheel. Collin insisted that we continue but I could not because I had been crossing my limits. McRae and navigator Nicky Grist had no choice but to stop and change the wheel.
We pulled over. He gave me a good kick in the rear and abused me in all the worst ways possible. He and Nicky sat down on the gravel road and fell into deep thought. With the kind of experience Collin and Nicky had in car mechanics, anything was possible especially when there was so much to gain. Collin’s eyes began to shine with a notion that told me something unbelievable was going to happen. He opened up the boot and began a top-down analysis. Nicky got inside the car and began the route check and calculations, and I began to wonder what was going on. I was incapable of completing the rally and here these two heroes were attempting the impossible.
There was only one spare tyre, which as it were, had a puncture! But just then I heard the screeching of brakes from the Ford service van. It had been going back North to Nairobi, as the day was almost ending when it received a call from Nicky. Monotonously, like robots, the crew replaced the wheel and zoomed off. With hardly enough time to digest what luck had just hit us, Collin hopped into the car and I was started up, put into gear and it was ‘Pedal to the Medal’ .We had lost a fair bit of time on that stage but not as much as apprehended.
There were still three more stages to go so the possibility of a podium finish had not yet faded. Our disadvantage was only a challenge of the moment. Collin kept pushing on and I co-operated with full spirit.
We managed to push hard enough to grab first place, on the very last stage of the day. We did end up on the podium with the victorious champagne fight; I won my first Rally championship event! Most certainly I was no longer that meek character that had stood behind Collin and Nicky: I was now standing beside them, up on the podium. I had not only won a glorious event but I had also won respect from my principals. As for my overconfident competitors they now know that I have just torn down their goal post and re-erected it in an area of the playing field that they did not even know existed.