For all its Group B excellence and the revolution that was Quattro AWD, Audi never managed to win Africa’s Safari Rally during rallying’s wildest years. It wouldn’t be until 1987, with a 200 Quattro driven by flying Finn, Hannu Mikkola, that Audi would finally win the African event.
The race, held in Kenya in 1987, was notoriously difficult. In fact, it wasn’t until 1972 that someone not born in Africa would win the race. The good news for Audi, though, was that Hannu Mikkola was behind the wheel of the Ford Escort that won that event.
Surprisingly, the difficult, dusty rally was still held up as evidence against the complexity of AWD and many automakers chose to go to the event with RWD cars, instead. As Motorsport Magazine put it in its recap of the event: “More than any other event of its calibre [sic], the Safari has always stressed the principle that the less complicated one makes a car, and the fewer the intricate innovations built into it, the greater the chance of its survival.”
The sport of rallying was also in the process of being neutered by an administrative body washing the blood of Group B off its hands. All the same, the Safari Rally was an old fashioned race run on public roads that was full of adventure.
Stig Blomqvist, for instance, destroyed his RWD Sierra Cosworth when he hit a dead cow on a night drive from Mombasa to Nairobi, while Vatanen had to replace his own driveshaft on course. Later in the rally, a mob started a riot near Lake Victoria, throwing stones and damaging not only rally cars, but official cars and press cars, too.
So it was a bit of a wild race for all involved, and Mikkola was no exception. Mountains had allowed Mikkola to use his power and grip to eventually take the lead. On the return run back to Nairobi, though, a dislodged turbo pipe meant disaster. The Finn had to wait half an hour for a replacement part. Fortunately for Audi, Toyota’s Supras, which were also challenging for the lead, had suffered punctures, allowing Mikkola to arrive in Nairobi nine minutes ahead of the competition.
On the final day of competition, conditions were perfect for Audi, as rain meant that Mikkola’s Quattro AWD system could be used to full effect. Unfortunately, Mikkola’s alternator would fail, giving a Golf GTI a real chance at victory. Audi was in no mood to lose this race, though, and sent the company helicopter out to get its driver a new alternator.
In the end, Audi managed a one-two finish with Walter Röhrl coming in 17 minutes adrift of his teammate Mikkola. The Toyota Supra of Lars-Erik Torph rounded out the podium, with Erwin Weber’s Golf GTI behind it.
Sadly, though this was Audi’s first ever victory at the Safari Rally, it would also be the company’s last in the World Rally Championship. It was about this time that Audi was turning its attentions to road racing, a field in which even greater success was to follow.