Safari Rally Long-Awaited WRC Return Set To Be Confirmed This Week

Jul 10 - by Mutwiri Mutuota for SportPesa News

Reports in Motorsport.com and global circuit website detail the 2019 Candidate Event was a roaring success, FIA to announce Kenya's comeback

The 2019 Safari Rally champion Baldev Chager's Mitsubishi E10 in action during the three-day event that culminated on Sunday, July 7, 2019. PHOTO/Courtesy/WRC

  • The country last hosted a WRC round in July 2002 when the event then known as the Inmarsat Safari Rally was won by British legend and former world champion, the late Collin McRae who was navigated by Nicky Grist in a Ford Focus
  • President Uhuru Kenyatta was on hand to wave the cars away from the ceremonial start in Nairobi, and also in attendance were representatives from Hyundai, M-Sport and Toyota, the WRC Promoter and the FIA
  • The only sporting issue for the event was the deterioration of the final stage, which meant some of the crews had to be pulled through deep sand

NAIROBI, Kenya- Kenya can at last look forward to the confirmation of the country's comeback to the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 2020 later this week following the resounding success of the Candidate Event 2019 Safari Rally.

The country last hosted a WRC round in July 2002 when the event then known as the Inmarsat Safari Rally was won by British legend and former world champion, the late Collin McRae who was navigated by Nicky Grist in a Ford Focus. 

In October of that year, world governing body, the FIA announced the Safari would not feature in the global circuit after the Government failed to guarantee to underwrite the costs of staging a WRC event as well as safety concerns aired by the works teams.

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Fast forward to 2019 and the country is buzzing yet again after WRC Promoter managing director, Oliver Ciesla praised the Kenyan Motor Sports Federation for delivering a Safari Rally worthy of a 2020 return to the world championship in a report published by www.motorsport.com.

The Candidate Event- that was also the fourth round of the Africa Rally Championship (ARC)- was won by local ace, Baldev Singh Chager and reportedly run without any safety issues and pending a FIA report from the governing body's WRC manager Andrew Wheatley and safety delegate Michele Mouton – it is expected to be included on the 2020 calendar, which Motorsport.com understands is likely to be confirmed this week.

"As far as WRC Promoter is concerned, the Safari Rally should be back to the championship [WRC]," Ciesla told Motorsport.com.

"Obviously, we have to wait and we have to let the FIA do its work and make its report, but this was very, very good."

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The only sporting issue for the event was the deterioration of the final stage, which meant some of the crews had to be pulled through deep sand.

Ceremonial start

President Uhuru Kenyatta was on hand to wave the cars away from the ceremonial start in Nairobi, and also in attendance were representatives from Hyundai, M-Sport and Toyota, the WRC Promoter and the FIA.

Ciesla added: "There is very good support for this event from the political and sporting side.

"Everything we wanted for the pictures, what the fans want to see, this rally has 100 percent delivered.

"We have the most spectacular images and the combination of the modern sport in this typically African environment is so special and so strong."

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The candidate event – run over 158 competitive stage miles – was won by Chager and Ravi Soni in a Mitsubishi Lancer E10, with Kenyan drivers locking out the top three positions.

The three-day East African rally was observed by the FIA and WRC Promoter in the latest stage of its bid to rejoin the WRC calendar next year for the first time since 2002.

It enjoyed strong Government support and president Kenyatta watched the opening super special stage at Nairobi’s Kasarani Stadium alongside 5,000 fans.

Leading Government ministers were present throughout the weekend as the focus switched to the Sopa service park alongside Lake Naivasha.

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“The backing of Kenya’s authorities is crucial to the Safari’s proposed return and I was delighted to see the strength of support from the highest levels of the country’s Government,” Ciesla underscored.

“The Safari Rally holds iconic status across East Africa and it was fantastic to see fans attending from countries like Uganda and Tanzania, as well as large crowds from Kenya itself.”

There was a strong media presence while manufacturer WRC teams sent representatives to assess the facilities and Great Rift Valley special stages.

The nature of the rally, organised by the KMSF, has evolved to fit the modern-day WRC but the event’s character remains, with challenging dirt roads, stunning picture-postcard scenery and African wildlife.

Competitors representing Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Burundi and Rwanda tackled 14 stages covering more than 255km.

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Should the confirmation be announced as expected later in the week, it will be the conclusion of a three-year effort that kicked off in 2015 when FIA president, James Todt, visited Kenya to access the possibility of including the country as a WRC round and another feather in the cap of KMSF boss and retired driver, Phineas Kimathi who starred in the Safari towards the end of the 1990s.

Five-time Safari Rally winner, Carl 'Flash' Tundo's Mitsubishi E10 in action during this year's edition in Naivasha. PHOTO/Courtesy