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Kenyan drivers start early preparations for WRC Safari Rally

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Action from last year's Safari Rally
  • The Safari Rally is scheduled for June 22-25
  • Most drivers will start preparation in January
  • They will look to finish in the top 10 slots

With the 2023 World Rally Championship calendar already decided, local drivers are outlining very firm plans about how they intend to fine-tune their race contraptions in the run up to 2023 WRC Safari Rally Kenya which is slated for 22 – 25 June.

A sizable number of home drivers will therefore break for next week’s festive season  after which they’ll kickstart their first major phase of preparations in January.

Nairobi based Skoda Fabia Rally2 ace and 2021 Kenya Motorsport Personality -of-the-Year Aakif Virani is leaving nothing to chance as he braces up for his third career WRC Safari Rally participation next year.

Aakif remarked: “Our preparations are well underway. Actually, the car was rebuilt after the 2022 WRC Safari and had been stored ready for 2023. We had some expenses but nothing major.”

“Our plan will be to start the 2023 KNRC season and do as many events as possible- work allowing as well as personal and family time.”

“But after Christmas, we will be ready for the new season as we look forward to doing our third WRC race now that FIA has confirmed the 2023 dates.”

Jasmeet and Ravi Chana plan for an upgrade

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Jasmeet Chana in a previous rally

Kenya National Rally Championship first runners-up Jasmeet and Ravi Chana have plans to upgrade from their longtime Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X machine to a state-of-the-art Rally2 in order to approach the 2023 Safari and KNRC campaigns a lot more competitively.

“The Evolution X has done what it was intended to; although we didn’t achieve the main national championship (KNRC) goal despite leading the series in its latter stages. But all in all, we have plans to upgrade to a newer machine- God willing- if sponsorship comes through,” said Chana.

Speedster Karan Patel in his Ford Fiesta Rally2 will for the umpteenth time run another busy season which will entail his spirited KNRC title defence, the WRC Safari with which he managed a top 10 in 2021 as well as the elusive FIA African Rally Championship (ARC) title which he lost to Zambian Leroy Gomes on homestretch in Lusaka.

Internationally, it’s no longer business as usual given that the season- opener in Monte Carlo is around the corner.

M-Sport Ford will field a two-car WRC2 team in 2023 with former top-level driver Adrien Fourmaux being joined by Grégoire Munster in a pair of identical Fiesta cars.

Fourmaux finds himself back in WRC’s premier support category having endured a luckless 2022 season at the helm of a Puma Rally1.

Hyundai put up a strong line up

Thierry

Thierry Neiville during WRC Safari Rally shakedown

Esapekka Lappi will drive for Hyundai Motorsport World Rally Tram as will Craig Breen – who returns to the squad on a part-time basis.

Lappi has shared a Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Yaris with Sébastien Ogier this season but is switching sides to contest a full-time programme in an i20 N next year.

The Finn also previously drove for M-Sport Ford – meaning he will now have campaigned cars from all three of the FIA WRC leading manufacturers.

Pierre-Louis Loubet will drive an M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid on all 13 rounds of next year’s WRC.

Having impressed M-Sport with a brace of top-four finishes plus a handful of stage wins on selected outings in 2022, the British squad has rewarded Loubet with a full-time campaign aboard one of its top-level Pumas next season.

The Frenchman becomes the second driver to be named in M-Sport’s line-up after it was confirmed  that Ott Tänak will lead the team in 2023.

Joining Loubet inside the car is new co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, who previously guided Hyundai star Thierry Neuville to 13 WRC rally wins and 43 podiums.

Toyota in an unchanged line up

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Kalle Rovanpera, winners of teh WRC Safari Rally. PHOTO/WRC

Takamoto Katsuta has been promoted to Toyota Gazoo Racing’s otherwise unchanged main line-up for the 2023  season.

Katsuta was taken under the wing of Toyota’s WRC Challenge Program for young drivers in 2015 and made his top-flight debut in Germany four years la

It remains to be confirmed which Toyota driver will contest each round – although Sebastien Ogier is likely to take up the reins for the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo (19 – 22 January), an event he has won eight times.

Elfyn Evans and new world champion Kalle Rovanperä return to compete for full seasons for the Japanese manufacturer.

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