Motor enthusiasts in Kenya were treated to the event of the decade as the WRC made it’s way back following a 19-year hiatus. Tourists, enthusiasts, and participating teams stretched the limits of both Naivasha and Nakuru during the three-day event occurring in Kedong Ranch, Soysambu Conservancy, Sleeping Warrior, and finally Hells Gate National Park. Overall, the event could be described as a mixture of nostalgia and rude introductions for many. Kenyan drivers had to align with the FIA’s long list of requirements, resulting in at least ten drivers getting axed from the event. Others had to race in designated categories because of the nature of their engine capacities.
Case in point, time trial ace Andrew Wanyoike competed via the WRC 3 category considering his N12 is 2.0 liters. The RC1 technical class only allows 1.6-liter six-speed cars doing 374 horsepower, and that’s where the majority of the WRC title contenders competed. The only difference between tier 1 and WRC 2 cars is smaller intake restrictors and modifications, so the latter had less power. Of course, it felt a bit skewed against the locals who operate under different specifications, but the pendulum did swing back. All those years away from the unforgiving east African terrain made the international WRC teams forget how bad it could be. The first two days in Kedong and SoySambu offered a crash course in endurance for most of the cars.
It became increasingly apparent that flat out was not the way to go if you wanted to win. There were several casualties, though from our side and theirs. Oliver Solberg, the legacy, retired following gearbox issues early on. The same fate befell Thiery Neville and the 90-year-old Zasada. Local up-and-comers like Mcrae Kimathi and Nzioka Waita also bowed out following mechanical problems at Sleeping Warrior, while Andrew Wanyoike had an accident at the Hells Gate stage. All in all, a rather brutal experience was had by many, but that’s what Safari Rally is.
It’s an arduous affair that claims casualties with no decorum. During the 50s, one of the founders of the East African safari rally, Neil Vincent, said, “if you will organise an event where we get into our cars, slam the door, go halfway across Africa and back and the first car home is a winner, I’ll be in it.” His idea bled into the event, making it more about endurance and smarts than a flat-out track race. Obviously, some shone through the dust this year. Sebastian Ogier, the reigning WRC champion, did retain his position and won the rally. Takamoto Katsuta came in second, making for a first, second finish for Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT. Clearly, it was a good season for Toyota Gazoo. Not so much for Hyundai Motorsport, who had several mechanical failures and only one showing on the podium. We had sterling performances as well from Onkar Rai, Karan Patel, and Carl Tundo, who made it to the top ten of the WRC Safari Rally leg. Not a bad performance from our guys after 19 years away from the WRC. It was a humbling experience overall for everyone involved. We came out wiser and ready for the next one, now that it’s here for the next five years.