Photos by Nelson Jeremy
Paul Nagle was hailed a team hero by his driver Craig Breen during last weekend’s Safari Rally Kenya.
The Ford M-Sport crew were contesting the legendary Naivasha-based event for the first time.
Run on roads in the Kenyan Rift Valley, the Safari Rally is known for its tough terrain, picture-postcard scenery and the country’s native wildlife.
Such were the concerns of the event organisers competitors were warned before the event not to leave their cars should they encounter mechanical problems during the rally.
The areas around Lake Naivasha are known for their roaming and non-predatory animals like giraffes, zebras, and buffalo.
However, the area is also home to leopards, snakes and to a lesser extent, lions.
Breen and Nagle started their maiden Safari rally by playing the long game. By the middle of Friday’s opening leg, the Ford Puma crew were in fifth place overall. They were settling in nicely for a big attack and with a favourable road position on the cards for day two it seemed their plan just might work.
It all unravelled on the final stage on Friday evening, which took place on roads in the Kedong Ranch where they suffered a puncture early in the test.
They were under strict instructions from M-Sport team bosses to stop and change a puncture and not risk further damage to the car on the notoriously rough roads.
Their first misfortune occurred when they stopped to change the offending wheel only for the car-jack to sink in the soft sand-like road surface known locally as fesh-fesh. A one and half minute job quickly became a task of nearly four minutes.
A few kilometres later a suspension component failed on the front of their Puma. It forced them off the road and out of the rally for the day.
That incident occurred around 4pm but given the region’s proximity to the equator, nightfall occurs just after 630pm.
Breen and Nagle knew they would be allowed to re-start under SuperRally rules if they could get the car out of Kedong.
However, the road was not due to open until well after darkness fell leaving the crew in a dilemma.
Breen needed to get back to the service park, some 20kms away, to study his recce video for Saturday stages with James Fulton, a second co-driver employed by the team for this very reason.
The decision was taken to get a helicopter to take the driver out of the stage and leave Paul on his own with the car as nightfall loomed. He quickly made new friends as he waited with the car and for a recovery unit.
“It is just me and the zebras,” joked the Killarney man via text message from the African bush.
Lucky for him he was quickly joined by some local marshals, another Kenyan rally crew who had also retired on the stage and members of the media who were working there.
It was nearly 8 pm and well after dark before the organisers were able to send a recovery truck in to retrieve the stricken Puma and get Nagle safely back to his hotel. It was well after 9 pm before he arrived at the hotel and he was left with very limited time to prepare for Saturday and its 5 am start.
“A big thanks to Paul, he took one for the team there,” said Breen. “There is no way I would have had time to look at the onboard videos and be fully prepared for the Saturday if I had stayed with the car.”
Their efforts were somewhat rewarded, and despite not finishing on Friday they were classified as sixth-placed finishers by Sunday evening. Their run to sixth was hampered by other mechanical issues along the way, including more suspension problems and a down-on-power engine but it was a gallant effort for their first attempt at the toughest event in the World Rally Championship calendar.
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