The 2023 FIA World Rally Championship reaches halfway next week when the 70th anniversary edition of Safari Rally Kenya hosts round seven of a season full of action and intrigue.
With Hyundai triumphing on Rally Italia Sardegna earlier this month, all three manufacturers competing in the initial phase of the hybrid-powered Rally1 era are now victorious in 2023 following wins earlier in the year for M-Sport (Ford) and Toyota.
What’s more, they have done so in three different car types, with Toyota, Hyundai and M-Sport using B-Class, C-Class and Compact Crossover vehicles respectively, such is the accessible nature of the Rally1 regulations. These require the use of fossil-free fuel and place an even greater emphasis on enhanced safety than previously through the continuous advancement of technology.
But while Safari Rally Kenya’s latest milestone is worthy of considerable celebration, the drivers and teams contesting one of the sport’s most demanding events will be focused solely on successfully negotiating the challenging route located around event hub Naivasha, 100 kilometres to the north of the capital Nairobi.
One of the sport’s most iconic contests, Safari Rally Kenya’s formidable reputation is not to be underestimated with river crossings, rock-strewn sections, climbs and dips, intense heat, plus a slippery surface in the event of heavy rainfall just some of what’s in store when the event takes place from June 22-25 over 355.92 timed kilometres.
As well as forming part of an increasingly exciting race for the prestigious FIA World Rally Championship titles, Safari Rally Kenya provides a chance for several African crews to gain crucial experience and showcase the competitive nature of the FIA African Rally Championship.
For the sport to continue to grow and to be accessible to more and more people, expanding the WRC’s reach around the globe is vital in encouraging the next generation of drivers, co-drivers, engineers, mechanics, logistics people and more besides. The championship’s return to Africa in 2021 after almost two decades away has therefore provided a significant opportunity.
All Rally1 cars competing on Safari Rally Kenya will use the Scorpion KX soft and hard tyres from official supplier Pirelli. The soft compound is the first choice for use in cool and damp conditions, while the hard compound is for warm and dry weather. Rally1 teams can use a maximum of 28 tyres for the event including four for Shakedown.
THE ROUTE IN SHORT
Stunning scenery and wildlife combine to make Safari Rally Kenya a must-follow event. The 19-stage route begins with the two-by-two Kasarani superspecial in the outskirts of Nairobi following the ceremonial start in Uhuru Park.
Three repeated stages on the northerly and southerly shores of Lake Naivasha form the largely unchanged Friday leg. Saturday’s action is located north of Naivasha towards Lake Elmenteita includes twin visits to the Sleeping Warrior stage, now the rally’s longest at 31.04 kilometres after Friday’s Kedong stage was reduced in length slightly.
Sunday’s itinerary begins with the new Malewa stage one of three repeated tests on the final leg of the event, of which the 10.53-kilometre Hell’s Gate Wolf Power Stage provides the final challenge.
SAFARI RALLY KENYA DATA
Stage distance: 355.92 km
Total distance: 1190.79 km
Number of stages: 19
RALLY1 HYBRID CONTENDERS
Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team: While Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo have previous Safari Rally Kenya experience to call upon, the event is all-new for Esepakka Lappi.
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team: Ott Tänak finished third on his Safari debut in 2021 but team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet is a newcomer to the event. Jourdan Serderidis is entered in a third Ford Puma Rally1 but is not eligible for Manufacturers’ championship points.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT: Toyota’s drivers have considerable Safari Rally pedigree with Sébastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanperä winning in 2021 and 2022 respectively. Development driver Takamoto Katsuta’s second place finish in 2021 marked his first WRC podium. Elfyn Evan, who finished second last year, completes the Toyota-powered line-up.
Twelve drivers will contest the FIA WRC2 category for Rally2 cars. They include Kajetan Kajetanowicz, Armin Kremer, Grégoire Munster, Martin Prokop and multiple Kenyan champion Carl Tundo.
Oliver Solberg will also rely on Rally1 technology although the young driver from Sweden has not nominated Safari Rally Kenya as one of his scoring rounds.
Kenya drivers Hamza Anwar, McRae Kimathi and Jeremiah Wahome are among the WRC3 entry, which also features Canada’s Jason Bailey and Paraguyan Diego Dominguez. – www.fia.com