President Uhuru flags off return to WRC status
Local rally driver Onkar Rai was the first off the ramp yesterday as President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off the World Rally Championship (WRC) Safari Rally at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC).
Onkar who is navigated by Drew Sturrock will be driving a Volkswagen Polo R5. Second from the ramp was reigning Equator Rally champion Carl Tundo navigated by Tim Jessop in another Volkswagen Polo R5.
The cars went straight to Kasarani from KICC for the start of the first stage, which was referred to as the Super Special Stage.
While flagging off the much-hyped rally, President Kenyatta said the event which is making a comeback to the WRC calendar after a 19-year absence, held a special place in Kenya’s history.
“The Safari Rally holds a special place in Kenya’s history. It is synonymous with our advancement as a people, and reveals our ambitions for a country that is led by the dreams of its younger generations,” he said.
He added: “The Safari Rally was first held in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1973, it gained admission to the International Automobile Federation (FIA) World Rally championship (WRC), thereby elevating it to the international event that we are witnessing today.
Over the years, the rally maintained its ‘rough and tough’ reputation. It ensured that we tested both our physical limits on the roads, and our innovative strengths in the development of bigger and faster machines.”
Event dropped and downgraded
President Uhuru said the country’s resolve was challenged in 2002, when the Safari Rally was dropped from the World Rally Championship and downgraded to the African Rally Championship.
“This adversely impacted the sport, as well as the sectors related to the motorsport industry, that had flourished for many years.
In 2013, I pledged to my fellow citizens that I would bring the Safari Rally back home.
I also promised that I would return the Safari Rally to its position as one of the International Automobile Federation’s (FIA) and World Rally Championship’s (WRC) toughest rallies,” he said.
Kenya Safari Rally is the sixth round of the 2021 World Rally Championship and has attracted 58 entrants from across the globe.
The main race will kicks this off morning at the main Service Park at the KWS Training Institute in Naivasha along the Nairobi–Nakuru highway.
He added: “This goal has materialised nine years later into the spectacular event that we are all witnessing today.
It has been a pleasure, interacting with the rally drivers, and I look forward to witnessing their expertise on the road. I thank the president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), Jean Todt, the World Rally Championship team and all those that have been part of this journey.
Let us all enjoy this charged and colourful event which, I hope, will be ingrained in our common psyche for many years to come.”
In yesterday’s results, Sebastian Ogier was 0.3 seconds faster than Toyota Yaris team-mate Kalle Rovanperä in the curtain-raising 4.84km Super Special Kasarani Stage in Nairobi.
Elfyn Evans completed a Toyota Gazoo Racing clean sweep of the top three, the Welshman a further 0.4 seconds behind.
Ogier and Ott Tänak went head-to-head in the final frontline heat around the sweeping curves and jumps of the purpose-built track in front of an excited large crowd.
Kicking up huge plumes of dust, Ogier beat the Hyundai i20 driver by 2.5sec. The action moves to the shore of Lake Naivasha.