By Samson Ateka
Safari Rally could soon return to the World Rally Championship (WRC), officials have said. During the 2018 edition of the iconic event held in the Great Rift Valley on the weekend of 16-18 March, WRC promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla said in an interview that the Safari Rally has realistic chances to gain WRC status.
The Safari Rally -which joined the global stage in 1973, the same year the late Shekhar Mehta emerged victorious, was struck off from the FIA WRC calendar in 2002 after Kenya failed to meet necessary conditions. The event was relegated to African Rally Championship status.
But with the recent visit of FIA President Jean Todt at the launc of the WRC Project Secretariat at Kasarani Stadium, motor spots organizers remain hopeful that Safari Rally will soon earn its slot in the WRC calendar. “What we saw is enough optimism to believe that this can be built on a great event.
With the preconditions available, it gives us confidence that we can move on. So far, we are impressed what we saw. Naivasha has proved to have some elements which are viable for a WRC ” said Ciesla after Safari Rally concluded last month.
“Particularly we look at the structural standards like hotels, do they have enough to accommodate a big number of people. We observed some other elements but we cannot judge them yet,” Ciesla continued. Kenya’s bid for a WRC slot however faces stiff competition from other countries like Japan and Canada eyeing to join the WRC.
“We feel obliged to consider what we think is good for the development of the championship. We try to build a calendar of snow, sand, hot, cold and at the moment Safari is missing and the continent Africa is missing as well. “As WRC, it would be a dream to have all continents. So we ticked two boxes, Safari and the continent.
“FIA is in favour of Safari rally proposal. And their objectives is the same as ours for the calendar event. Since this is the only event we have inspected, we shall focus on that for now,” he asserted. Ciesla further shared the benefits a host country gets from WRC. Natural features topped Ciesla’s highlights of Safari rally.
“We were very pleased. It was almost as we have it in our fantasy. The nature, wild life, made the whole event wonderful,” he said. “I was also so pleased to see the passion of the people supporting the sport. It was a very positive surprise seeing that.
They were willing to learn. So the preconditions are really good for us,” he continued. The Safari Rally was notorious for being by far the most difficult rally in the WRC championship. The arduous conditions such as the constantly changing weather and rough roads- often rife with sharp rocks- made life very difficult for team personnel.
Repairs were constantly having to be made to the cars and a lot of time would be often lost. The event adopted the special stage format in 1996. From that edition until 2002, it featured over 1000 km of timed stages, with stages well over 60 km long, unlike most rallies which had under 500 km of total timed distance.
This meant that the winner’s total time was above 12 hours in 1996 and decreased to two seconds shy of 8 hours in 2002. The Kenyan government is trying to get the rally’s WRC status restored. Since 2003, the event has been part of the African Rally Championship organised by the FIA.
Local drivers Shekhar Mehta and Carl Tundo have five wins on the Safari roll of honor. Sheikhar won the event in 1973, 1979–1982.