Today was supposed to be the start of the return of the Safari Rally after several years of preparation had resulted in an announcement by the President of Kenya and the WRC in September 2019 that the race was back.
The Safari Rally was legendary as being one of the WRC’s (World Rally Championship) toughest rounds with a route, at about 5,000 kilometres, that was twice as long as other rallies. It used to be run around Easter, which is usually the long rain season, and in some years, showers would transform dry, dusty trails into mud baths.
It was run over four or five days and nights, on open roads that drew in more hazards, such as encounters with other motorists and wildlife and all these ensured that a Safari win was one of motorsport’s most coveted prizes for drivers, teams, and car manufacturers.
But rallying has not aged well in the era of modern TV and having drivers race for several days and nights on open remote roads means it is tough to sell the action to a global television audience.
This years’ rally, that was set to take place between July 16 – 19, and now been pushed to 2021, had evolved to fit the modern-day WRC. It is organised by the WRC Safari Rally Project, a joint venture between Kenya’s Sports Ministry and the Kenya Motor Sports Federation to return the Safari to the WRC calendar which it had been dropped from in 2002.
But its Safari character remains, with racing on challenging dirt roads, with picturesque African scenes. It was to be based in Nairobi with the service park and stages on closed roads in the Hells Gate National Park and around Lakes Naivasha and Elementaita in the Great Rift Valley.
Before the Coronavirus shut down world travel, it was expected to feature several, if not all of the current top WRC teams and cars. These include the Hyundai i20, Ford Fiesta, Citroen C3, Toyota Yaris, and others from Skoda and Volkswagen that are all 4WD cars with 1.6-litre turbo engines able to reach 200 kilometres per hour.
Here is a Pinterest series of older WRC Safari rally pictures.
- Kenya has an annual local rally series sponsored by banking giant, the KCB Group.
- There has also been a classic safari rally series featuring older rally cars. sponsored for many years by Kenya Airways, and more recently by Safaricom, it took racers around East Africa in the grand old style of the 1960’s rallies.
EDIT Oct 9, 2020: Kenya’s iconic Safari Rally and Japan, which were both included in this year’s schedule but cancelled due to the pandemic, are on the 2021 WRC calendar. Kenya is slotted for 24 – 27 June, 2021 as the WRC returns to Africa for the first time since 2002.