The Safari Rally will remain part of the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar for the next five years, President Uhuru Kenyatta has said. The Head of State said that an agreement has been reached with WRC organizers and the International Motorsports Federation (FIA) to have the grueling and tough rally remain part of the calendar up to 2026.
The Safari Rally returned to the WRC calendar for the first time in 19 years this weekend and the success, fan and enthusiasm circled around it has seen an agreement reached between the Kenyan Government and the FIA boss Jan Todt who was in the country throughout the competition.
“The future belongs to those who believe in their dreams. We have dreamed and we delivered. We planned and succeeded through the collective effort and it is certain that the greatest show in motorsport in Africa will continue to thrill and inspire generations long into the future,” President Kenyatta said as he closed down the rally in Naivasha.
He further added; “I want to underscore that the Safari Rally has proved that Motorsport in kenya is alive and well and this weekend we have just had a taste of the bright and awesome future that is in store for motorsport in Kenya and East Africa,”
Frenchman Sebastien Ogier, the seven-time World Champion and current log leader scored more points to get himself clear in the title race after putting up a shift in the final day to overturn a difficult start to the demanding course in Naivasha.
Ogier clawed his way up the order from seventh after suffering suspension troubles of his own in the Rally’s opening day on Friday. His fourth win in six rounds extended the seven-time champion’s lead to 34 points at the season midpoint.
“After our troubles on Friday, we had a really good weekend, really good pace. It’s been an amazing experience to be here. The support we got from the local people was incredible. It might be a bit shorter than the old days, but the challenge is still very tough,” an excited Ogier said after the race.
Ogier picked up the top spot on the final day after erstwhile leader Thierry Neuville retired early after his Hyundai i20 suffered broken suspension after clipping a rock. Ogier managed to muscle out Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Takamoto Katsuta from the top pushing in the final lap to edge him out by 21.8seconds.
Japanese Katsuta claimed his first WRC podium to seal Toyota Gazoo Racing’s fourth 1-2 result of the season. He managed to finish 47.7sec ahead of Ott Tanak’s Hyundai i20, the Estonian completing the podium.
Tanak was fastest through the Wolf Power Stage to claim five bonus points. Kalle Rovanpera scored four points in second in a Yaris, with team-mate Elfyn Evans taking three in third. Ogier secured two points in fourth with Dani Sordo bagging the final point in fifth in an i20.
Neuville, who was clear favorite to win the Rally after commanding performances in the first two days was heartbroken to have had to retire so close to the finish line, having accrued a lead of close to a minute to his closest challenger.
Neuville vowed to work with the Alzenau team to come through what’s been a difficult run of form. The i20 Coupe WRC has led the last four rallies in Croatia, Portugal, Sardinia and Safari without winning any of them.
“It’s a tough time. As a team, we are standing together. It’s difficult, but I have to stay with the team. I think I am altogether fighting hard and we’re definitely going to try and find some solution for that problem and fight back harder towards the end of the year, ” Neuville told WRC.com.
Meanwhile, Kenyan drivers Onkar Rai, Karan Patel and Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo scored WRC points after finishing in the top 10. The trio were competing in the WRC3 class with Onkar dedicating his maiden win to his elder brother Tejveer Rai who is recuperating in hospital after crashing out on Friday in Kedong.
“It’s amazing. I hope he is watching, this is for him. It was a really hard drive, and I am really happy that we have got the rally back,” Rai said after his win.
Onkar, driving a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 finished 7th overall ahead of Patel in a Ford Fiesta R5 who was 8th while Tundo, a five-time Safari Rally winner was placed 9th. Patel had racked up 40seconds in penalties due to late check-ins, but had a healthy 3min 10.3sec advantage over Tundo by the end.
There were no finishers in WRC2. Czech star Martin Prokop was the only entrant and he crashed his Fiesta Rally2 heavily on Friday.