Considered as the world’s toughest rally, Kenya’s premier motor sport competition Safari Rally has taken a major step in its bid to return to the World Rally Championship (WRC) after it was slotted in the 2020 pre-calendar. The iconic African event, famed for its tough driving conditions, featured on the World Championship circuit between 1973 and 2002. The 14-leg WRC has been lacking a leg in Africa since Safari Rally was dropped in 2002.
Photos by Anwar Sidi
This year’s competition will be a candidate event for the 2020 World Rally Championship circuit and as such is bound to attract a lot of interest from international teams. The new move, pending final draft by WRC, almost confirms the country’s dream to have the event back in the top tier of global motor sport circuit in 2020.
“Kenya has signed a three year deal with the promoter to run the event as part of the WRC from 2020 to 2022. It’s an exciting project, which we hope to fulfill all its conditions. One final step in the agreement was to hold the Safari rally in 2019 as the Candidate Event. We will do so in June,” said Kenya Motor Sport Federation president, Phineas Kimathi Kimathi.
The clamour for the rally’s return to the championship has grown louder lately. The first ever edition of the Safari Rally in 1953 marked the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It crossed into Tanzania and Uganda.
“It reflects our determination to restore a legendary rally to the championship and reintegrate Africa to the top table of world rallying after an absence of more than a decade,” said WRC managing director Oliver Ciesla in a statement.
The Safari Rally will run from 5-7 July 2019 starting from the Kasarani Stadium, before moving to Naivasha and Kedong areas respectively. A maximum of 60 cars will be allowed to race in the rally that is a FIA WRC Candidate Event. The Safari Rally is also a round of the 2019 African Rally Championship.
The Safari Rally will be 881km long—divided into eight stages for three days. The Super Special will be the highlight of the opening day, where cars will race side by side within the expansive Moi Stadium, Kasarani open grounds offering a un-obstructed view of the action which starts at 10:26 am.
Rally fans in central Kenya will have a rare opportunity to watch the cars pass through sleepy villages as the drivers will use Thika Road past Exit 14 into Kenyatta Road on their way to the pristine Gatamaiyo Forest gate via Munduru and Kiganjo. The 17km stage in Gatamaiyo Forest will offer the rally traffic real test over an altitude of 2000 metres in a span of 55km from Kasarani. Visibility might be minimal depending on prevailing weather or sticky if it rains. The stage ends 1km before Soko Mjinga on Nairobi/Nakuru Highway.
The cars will then turn right towards Naivasha town for service and overnight halt at Sopa Lodge along Moi North Road. Day 2 will see the contestants leave Sopa at 6:45 pm and head towards Soysambu Ranch,10km past Gilgil town. Six stages—Soysambu, Elementaita and Sleeping Warrior—measuring 126km will be tackled in the action-packed day with designated spectator stages offering a birds-eye view of the action up and close.
Day 3 will shift to Naivasha area with three stages namely Malewa, Loldia and Kedong which will be 110km repeated twice. Some of the important timelines include May 21 when entries open at the Rally secretariat at Kasarani Stadium. They close on June 19 with a complete list published the following day.