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The test of talent and the examination of exactly how far some motoring skills went was the menu of the day on 3 August as tarmac terrorists and sliding, slithering speed samurais swooshed along and across the sinuous, snaking stretch of road that serves one or two hamlets in Murang’a County.
It was a do-or-die quest for driving glory, which, in simple terms, was called the Murang’a TT. The initials stand for Time Trial.
This was an arena of automotive athletes — nothing for simpering sissies. And before we delve into the dirty details, let us first get one thing out of the way.
Time and again, I have said that in purely performance parameters, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution rules over the Subaru Impreza WRX STi, if only ever so slightly.
Yes, sir, this is going exactly where you think it is. The day was carried by the Evolution.
That the championship would be taken by not one, but two Lancer Evolutions, that these two Evos would be as similar is style and substance as a set of Siamese twins, that a Subaru in the skilled hands of the famous Paji could not hold a candle to a pair of sliver slashes of swift speed snipers, that the identical Evos would finish in a dead heat... not only beggars belief, but also proves that four years of writing this column means yours truly is not as much of a dimwit as some allege.
Let me explain.
There is no point in “saving the best for last”. By now, the results are public. The Murang’a TT road race was a straight victory for Team Evo. Two cars took the outright win.
Both were Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, and were driven by the most laid back, taciturn, calm, unassuming, shy, and retiring of individuals: Shy and retiring until they got behind the Evo wheel, that is. Both cars took a combined time of eight minutes and 36 seconds.
Oh, and both cars have registration plates ending in -00 S. What are the odds?
ORIGIN OF SPEED-FREAKS
The Murang’a TT is the bastard child of a need for cheap competition and the pursuit of legitimacy behind the purchase of high powered sports cars, among other things.
It is one of the calendar races slated in the Kenya Motor Sports Foundation (KMSF) events. So, yes, this particular racing is legit. And like The Great Run, I can be found getting in everybody’s way behind the scenes. This time I was a “scrutineer”.
Think of a “scrutineer” as a strict, surly, difficult-to-please, bespectacled, white-coated old man with a magnifying glass, a clipboard and a red pen in hand, out to make everyone’s life difficult through the application of a set of unlovable rules and regulations.
I was strict, but I was not surly, and neither did I have a white lab coat. I did not even have a magnifying glass. It was my work to make sure that the competing cars were roadworthy, simple as that.
Come race day and I got reacquainted with an old friend, the same black GDB Subaru Impreza WRX STi that battled a white Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Extreme Edition (and lost narrowly) on these pages.
In other words, it was the very car that started this whole war I have been having with Subaru enthusiasts for about two years now. This time, I was a passenger in it.
Waking up at 4am led yours truly to assume that I would be among the first people to arrive at the Theatre of Throttles, but I could not have been more wrong. The spectator turnout was a spectacle to behold. You do not get to see that many cars at once.
Murang’a County has not had traffic of that density in the past one thousand years. The atmosphere was charged and the people were colourful, as were the cars. It was all wrapped up in half a hundredweight of pomp and circumstance, topped off with the thrill of anticipation.
REAL REASON WHY WE ARE THERE
This was the set-up. We closed off a road that would serve as our racetrack. The course itself was quite technical. The distance was a hair over 10km. The road was narrow(ish).
The corners were of alternately reducing and increasing radii. There were some random camber changes and run-off areas were few and far between.
You needed to be awake if you wanted to successfully complete this challenge at high speed. Two drivers learnt the hard way just how wide awake you needed to be.
To complicate matters, haystacks were used as road markers at key points along the course.
Getting your line right through the haystacks while battling a nose washing wide, a tail breaking out, a four-wheel drift, or whatever demon of driving dynamics happened to plague you during those critical moments, was just one of the many ways in which men were separated from boys. None of the drivers hit any haystacks (I hope).
The cars were quite a collection too. There were three-and-a-half classes: AWD, front-wheel drive, rear wheel drive, and classics, which were sort of swallowed up by the front-wheel drive group.
There was a vintage Volkswagen Beetle in the line-up, the oldest and simplest car of the lot, alongside the Issigonis Cube (the original British Leyland Mini).
There was a Lancer Evolution X SST (the twin-clutch model), which, while not exactly the newest car here (there was a slightly newer Volkswagen Golf Mk 5 GTi), was easily the most complex. It did not win, though it was also silver, like the winners.
I think I am noticing a trend here. The AWD class was filled with the usual suspects: Blue Subaru STi and silver Lancer Evos, with a splash of Forester here and Celica GT4 there.
Then came crunch time. The minister for ICT decided to grace our affair and brought with him his acquaintance in government — the local governor.
They flagged off the classic cars, which ambled away spiritedly, glad to be enjoying all the attention while they still could.
That is because just behind them, the turbocharged-and-intercooled 4x4 sports saloons had rumbled into life and were itching to show everybody what “tearing up the tarmac” really meant.
Let me pause here to explain exactly how the Time Trial works for those still in the dark. It is not wheel-to-wheel racing. We are not as civilised as a competitive sect yet.
The TT is a rally-style showdown in which the time you take to cover a particular distance determines your rank and supremacy (or lack thereof) on the hierarchy of helmsmen.
One car is allowed on the track at a time, giving the driver a clear road and fewer things to think about as he concentrates on not crashing his car and also moving fast enough to set a respectable time.
It is also imperative to not get overtaken when the next driver is released. If you get overtaken on a time trial, you should stick to riding bicycles. Forget about cars.
To give competitors a fighting chance, two or more heats are organised, one going uphill and another downhill. If it is done on flat ground, the competitors go one way, then the other. This can be repeated as many times as desired or as is possible.
The results could also be tallied in different ways. An average time could be computed (summing up the individual heat times and dividing the figure by the number of heats), the total time taken (simply summing up all the times) or a best heat time considered, discarding the less impressive results. It is up to the organisers and competitors to decide what formula works best for them.
We decided to have two heats, one in each direction, and then simply sum up the heat times. So, the cars took off and different drivers had different approaches to the tournament.
There were those that were cagey, careful, and cautious, and there were those who adopted a death-or-glory all-out attack.
The latter group drove themselves into understeer, through sliding, and out of oversteer, leaving the road in the process and getting back to it like a relentless rhino.
They cared less whatever useless opinions the watchers and critics might have concerning what they just saw because, hey, if the spectators knew so much about driving, why were they not on the track setting times too, anyway? What do they know about late braking and taking second gear corners in third gear?
Then there were the podium finishers, who, like practised surgeons, scythed their way through the black flesh that is the track surface, methodically dissecting the corners and taking full advantage of the equipment they controlled to show lesser drivers exactly how to win a competitive driving event effortlessly and without breaking a sweat short of actually bribing the officials.
Is it mere coincidence that two very similar cars set the exact same lap times and jointly captured the time trial trophy?
You, dear reader, by now know the drill. You had to be there. I cannot describe exactly how 25 different cars went about navigating the track, nor can I fully instil in you the mood and enjoyment of being part of Club TT Motorsports Murang’a Time Trial.
What I can do is provide you with the results of the event for your digestion and analysis.
Subaru fans, the writing is on the wall, as it is on this page. Not even the Paji’s otherworldly set of skills in a mango-coloured six-star Type R 22B-clone coupé could save the Scoobies from demolition by the Lancer Evolution IX.
The next time trial is scheduled for October, going back to its origin — the “Kiambu-Ring”. This is a vastly different track in that the corners are a lot less technical and can be taken at much higher speeds compared to Murang’a.
However, there is the small issue of what map makers call “distance”. The Kiambu-Ring is almost twice the length of the Murang’a sprint track, some of the corners are blind, and there is a tendency for drivers to get carried away and pile too fast into certain corners.
Fortunately, local farmers have placed a nice, thick cushion of tea bushes on which to land should you happen to run out of talent and/or space in the middle of a corner.
PARASTATAL heads who signed the Mombasa port community charter risk being sacked if their agencies do not deliver on the contents of the new entity. The charter signed between the government and the private sector aims at improving the movement of cargo from the port into hinterland