Rally fans flock Hells Gate to witness end of championship
Rally enthusiasts yesterday had an experience of a lifetime, as they flocked the Hells Gate spectator stage to witness the end of the World Rally Championships (WRC) Safari Rally that was making a return to the country after a 19-year absence.
Besides watching the speed stars raise the dust at the 10.56km section, the fans took time to take memorable photos of the beautiful gorges, cliffs and rocks at the Hells Gate National Park, which provides the perfect backdrop for many scenes, including the core scenes in the famous Tomb Rider movie, The Cradle of Life that was shot at the same venue in 2003.
Being the final day of the four-day competition that was flagged off at Kenyatta International Conference Centre on Thursday, fans anticipated thrilling action, especially after Belgian driver Thierry Neuville of Hyundai had taken a slim lead at the end of Day Three and three other drivers, Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota Yaris), Ott Tanak (Hyundai) and reigning world champion Sebastien Ogier (Toyota Yaris) all stood a chance of winning the historical event at the final stage.
Yesterday’s action saw the drivers go through the Loldia stage which was 11.33km, Hells Gate stage that was 10.56km and Malewa stage, which was 9.71km, but despite the fact being at all the three stages, the fans overlooked Malewa and Loldia and all picked Hells Gate which was also referred to the ‘Power Stage’ of the rally.
Movement into the spectator stage began as early as 4am, with some fans coming from the Naivasha Fans Carnival party held along the Moi South Road and heading straight to the action venue.
Most fans, some referred to as the ‘Subaru Boys’ spent two nights at the carnival party, which was host by a number of top local DJs led by Crème De La Crème and hundreds were sleeping in their cars since accommodation in the town had been over booked a week to the action.
Fans movement created a heavy traffic snarl up on the road that links majority of hotels in the town, and a section of fans claimed that they were charged Sh250 to gain access to the park, despite the fact that watching rallies are always free, before a senior Safari Rally official intervened as he tried to find out the reason of the heavy snarl up in the wee hours.
Inside the park, there were thousands of spectators by 1pm when the first car driven by Kenyan Onkar Rai passed, to the deafening cheers of the fans and received by Maasai warriors at the finish line to congratulate him for his feat, when he emerged the WRC Three winner and the best overall Kenyan in the global competition.
Vendors made good business at the venue, with hiked food prices, as a can of beer was sold at Sh300 compared to its recommended Sh180 price.
Leaving the venue after drivers finished the section became hectic as drivers blocked each other in a rush against time to go and witness the official closing ceremony of the event at the Service Park by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The President arrived in the morning and watched the action at two stages; Malewa and Hells Gate, together with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka.