Back in the fifties, rallying always meant adventure. However, between mid-sixties and early seventies those long épreuves began a process of transformation in adopting the Scandinavian rally model, which led to the scenario we know nowadays – the event is divided in legs, each of them composed by a certain number of timed special stages on closed roads. But, even when this system prevailed, there were some rallies that maintained most of the elements of the “old system” on them – the most famous one was the East African Safari. It was a contest of endurance and skill on the East African savanna, battered by a scorching sun or demential rains, men and machine alone against the elements on open roads… And it was in that onstage that one driver excelled – Shekhar Mehta.
Shekhar Mehta (Facebook)
Chandrashekhar Mehta was born in his family’s farm near Lugazi, more or less 50 kilometers east of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, on the 20th June of 1945. As his name implies, Shekhar was from Indian ascent (more precisely, from Punjab), and his family had a wide range of affairs both in India and East Africa, mainly sugar and tea plantations, but also a BMW dealership for the British Colonies on the region. So, as it was natural for a son of a very rich family, Shekhar was sent with just five years old to an exclusive Swiss College and then proceeded to the renowned St.Paul’s School in London. And, as soon as he finished his studies, Mehta worked for a year on the London Stock Exchange and in a cement business owned by some relatives, before returning to Uganda with 20 years old, in 1965, to help his father Knimji with the family business, beginning with sugar, and only later reaching a position on the car dealership. Continue reading
John Haugland is regarded as one of the best Norwegian rally drivers ever, widely known for his lifelong connection with the Czech manufacturer Škoda, a fairly unusual association back in the days of the Iron Curtain. Quite a coincidence I wrote the first version of this article, more or less three years ago, precisely on the day in which the world celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first big step to end the Cold War, if it really truly ended…
John Haugland on his early days (Google Images)
Returning to our man, Haugland was born at Stavanger, nowadays known as the centre of the Norwegian oil industry, on the 23rd September of 1946. Even if Norway hasn’t the same racing pedigree such as Finland and Sweden (after the 1955 Le Mans tragedy, Norway enforced severe motor racing restrictions that, even if they weren’t so wide as the Swiss ones, hampered its development), it hosted a thriving motorsport scenario during the sixties, not only on rallies – discipline we use to associate immediately with Scandinavia and their epitome, the Flying Finns – but also on racing, both on gravel kilometer ovals and ice racing. And it was in this thriving scenario that young John caught the motorsport bug, initially with motorbikes and only later on four wheels. Nevertheless, money was vital to have a chance of starting a motor racing career, and it wasn’t properly John’s strongest point. Also, his choice – rallying – proved more expensive than circuit racing, so Haugland chose the latter to debut and, at the same time, went into an apprenticeship as a car technician with Škoda Norway. These circumstances led John to buy, in 1965, a Škoda Octavia TS, which he then updated and entered on some minor track races. Continue reading
Everybody knows motorsport is dangerous. However, rallying in open roads had produced far less fatalities than track racing, mainly concerning drivers and co-drivers, which may seem quite strange as driving on open roads with nothing to separate the car from deep ravines, trees, walls and so many more hazards bordering the special stages! On the other hand, spectators are much more at risk, so if we take a look on the tragedies that struck the rally past, the enthusiasts took a far heavier toll than the drivers. And, ironically, one of the few drivers to die on the centennial Monte Carlo Rally wasn’t driving, but spectating… Here’s the story of Lars-Erik Torph.
Another day at the office…
Wilhelm Lars-Erik Torph was born in Säffle, a small town in central Sweden between Örebro and Karlstad, traditional terrains of the Swedish Rally, on the 11th May 1961. Two of the most notorious natives of Örebro were famous drivers – Ronnie Peterson and Stig Blomqvist – and Torph grew up idolising the latter, the master of snow rallies aboard is orange Saab… He was a rally passionate since his childhood days and as a teen he didn’t take long to learn to drive and used to fix old cars to compete occasionally with his mates, which greatly improved his mechanical skills. In 1976 his older brother Kjell-Arne entered some local events and Lars was drafted as co-driver – even if he was only fifteen – and soon he set his ambitions to become a driver. However, Torph had no money, so used his hardly acquired mechanical skills to find a job on a local Volvo garage, and used his earnings to buy an old Volvo 142, which allowed him to enter his first local rallies as soon as he took his license, by March 1979. Continue reading