Frenchman Sebastien Ogier (right) and his navigator Vincent Landais of Britain

Frenchman Sebastien Ogier (right) and his navigator Vincent Landais of Britain, celebrate after winning the 2023 WRC Safari Rally on June 25, 2023.

| Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Can the rest catch up with Toyota as Safari Rally returns to Easter holiday period?

What you need to know:

  • From the experience of 2023, Kenyans need to upgrade their rally cars to stand a chance of being noticed in the Safari Rally, like in 2021 when local crews occupied 7th and 10th positions

The 2024 World Rally Championship Safari Rally, set for March 28-31 in Nairobi and Naivasha, promises to be a major attraction as it returns to the Easter weekend. It will be the 71st edition WRC Safari Rally.

The big question is whether Toyota will achieve another dominant performance, having won the past three editions.

Sebastien Ogier

Winners of the 2023 WRC Safari Rally, Sebastien Ogier and Vincent Landais celebrate on June 25, 2023 in Naivasha.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

The year 2023 was yet another Toyota crowing moment following a resounding victory of Frenchmen Sebastien Ogier and Vincent Landais in a Toyota Yaris GR car.

Although on a part-time engagement with Toyota, Ogier, the 2021 champion, proved that just like old wine, he is improving his skills with age.

The performance of the man with eight world champions was unmatched by the rest of the field, having maintained the health of his car throughout the four days of action in Nairobi, Naivasha and Gilgil.

The Frenchman announced he was gradually pulling out of the WRC to concentrate on his family after winning his eighth World Rally Championship (WRC) title in the 2021 season, the same year Kenyans were treated to his sublime driving skills in a Toyota Yaris GR.

Toyota’s 2023 Safari Rally winner Sebastian Ogier autographs his competition helmet before presenting in to President William Ruto as WRC Promoter CEO Jona Siebel (centre) looks on at Hell’s Gate. This year’s rally was another success.

Photo credit: Pool | PSCU

His staying power, focus even under intense pressure from former WRC Safari Rally champion Kalle Rovanpera of Finland and his navigator, fellow Finn Jonne Halttunen, was greeted by enthusiasm from Kenyan fans who followed them in large numbers mass and social media, uplifting the spirits of many in a country facing its worst recession in the recent past.

Secondly, as it is, the WRC is shaping into a four-horse contest pitting world champion Kalle Rovanpera against Ott Tanak, Thierry Neuville and Ogier. Rovanpera, who finished second in Kenya this year, said he will compete in selected races next season. He is yet to confirm whether he will be returning to Kenya.

Toyota's Finnish driver Kalle Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen steer their car

Toyota's Finnish driver Kalle Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen steer their car on the second day of the WRC Rally Finland in Jyväskylä, Finland, on August 4, 2023.

Photo credit: Hannu Rainamo | AFP

As such, the 2024 WRC Safari Rally’s line-up remains a matter of speculation, but for sure, the 2019 world champion Tanak, who is returning to Hyundai from Ford, is a sure bet.

The Estonian shared stage times in the WRC Safari Rally with the leaders, winning the Kasarani Super Special Stage, but suffered a series of mishaps, including a tire puncture which extinguished his hopes of winning the Safari Rally. He suffered more than two minutes in total cumulative time, which he was unable to cancel throughout the remaining days.

There is a select group of people known as stewards who listen to disputes in motorsport events. They dispense instant justice in real-time. They read the charge sheet and lend a sympathetic ear before passing judgments and imposing hefty fines in the form of cash denominated in Euros, or worse penalties in time added to one's total, or disqualification!

Kenya National Rally Championship series winner Karan Patel was the first culprit who was fined the equivalent of Sh280,000 for failing to activate the green button and an ‘Ok’ sign within a minute and to relay the signal in real-time at the Rally Headquarters after he had stopped mid-stage.

Sebastien Ogier

Tooya MSport's Sebastien Ogier navigated by Vincent Landais competes in Hell's Gate stage of the 2023 WRC Safari Rally on June 25, 2023.

Photo credit: Anwar Sidi | Nation Media Group

This signal is required to alert the Clerk of Course of the status of a crew, which is stopped mid-stage for safety purposes. Karan had stopped at the Kedong stage to change a flat tyre.

A red light signal relayed remotely to Rally Headquarters by a stuck crew indicates danger, such as an accident, which requires the rally to be stopped, as in the case of a medical emergency.

But the worst punishment in the Safari Rally was imposed on Neuville, who admitted to walking in a restricted area to remove stones, which is akin to having prior knowledge of the course and therefore, having an advantage over your competitors. He admitted the mistake but argued that he wanted the stone removed.

Karan Patel navigated by Tauseef Khan

Karan Patel navigated by Tauseef Khan racing on a Ford Fiesta WRC 2 in action at Soysambu Stage during World Rally Championships Safari Rally, Kenya on June 24, 2023.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

People from the organising team reported him. He thus forfeited his two points in the Safari Rally for himself and his team, Hyundai.

From the lessons of 2023, Kenyans will need to upgrade their rally cars to stand a chance of being noticed in the Safari Rally, like in 2021 when they occupied the seventh and 10th positions, a remarkable achievement compared to the past two editions. Many local drivers also lack newer machines that are eligible in the Rally Two and Three categories.

Speaking to delegates, media, drivers and WRC Promoter, they all agreed that the Safari Rally still has its vintage characteristic of being unpredictable, as happened when it rained heavily in the Soysambu area, rendering the high technology in Rally 1 cars hopeless.

The presence of President William Ruto and his Deputy Rigathi Gachagua at the start and finish was a stamp of approval for the Safari.

Overall FIA World Rally Championship

1 (#17) Sébastien Ogier - Landais V. (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 3:30:42.5

2(#69) Kalle Rovanperä - Halttunen J. (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 3:30:49.2/+6.7

3 (#33) Evans Elfyn - Martin Scott (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)    3:33:41.0/+2:58.5

4 (#18) Takamoto Katsuta - Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 3:34:06.3/+3:23.8

5.(#6) Sordo Dani - Carrera Cándido (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) 3:35:47.9/+5:05.4

6 (#8) Tänak Ott - Järveoja Martin (Ford Puma Rally1) 3:39:56.9/+9:14.4

7 (#7)   Pierre-Louis Loubet - Gilsoul N. (Ford Puma Rally1) 3:46:58.2/+16:15.7

8 (#11) Thierry Neuville - Wydaeghe M. (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) 3:55:29.5/+24:47.0

9 (#21) Kajetanowicz K. - Szczepaniak (M.Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo )   3:57:15.9/+26:33.4

10 (#20) Oliver Solberg - Edmondson E. (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo)     3:57:46.5/+27:04.0

11 (#23) Martin Prokop - Jůrka Zdeněk (Ford Fiesta Rally2) 4:08:43.6/+38:01.1

12 (#26) Carl Tundo - Jessop Tim (Škoda Fabia R5)    4:11:38.6/+40:56.1

13 (#4) Lappi Esapekka - Ferm Janne (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) 4:12:57.4/+42:14.9

14 (#24) Kremer Armin - Gottschalk Timo (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo)  4:14:40.8/+43:58.3

17 (#32) Samman Singh Vohra - Alfir Khan  (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) 5:23:48.3/+1:53:05.8

19 (#30) Aakif Virani - Azhar Bhatti (Škoda Fabia R5)            5:43:12.5/+2:12:30.0

20 (#37) McRae Kimathi - Mwangi Kioni (Ford Fiesta Rally3) 5:43:54.7/+2:13:12.2

21 (#44) Nikhil Sachania - Deep Patel (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X) 5:52:33.1/+2:21:50.6

Kenya National Rally Championship Series

1: Carl Tundo/Tim Jessop (Ken), Skoda Fabia, 2:09.18.4

2: Jasmeet Chana/Ravinder Chana (Ken) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10, 2:33.37.5

3: Nickil Sachania/Deep Patel (Ken), Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10,2:36.25.1

4: Issa Amwari/Dennis Mwendwa, Misubishi Lancer Evo 10, 2:39,31.5

5:Samman Vohra/Alfir Khan, Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo, 2:51.12.1

6: Josiah Kariuki/John Ngugi,  (Ken), Subaru Impreza, 2:57,46.0

7: McRae Kimathi/Mwangi Kioni,  (Ken),  Ford Fiesta Rally 2:59.06.7

8: Natasha Tundo/Chantal Young (Ken), Subaru Impreza STi, 3:00:26.9

9: Amman Shah/Rahil Shah (Ken), Subaru Impreza, 3:14:07.4

10: Tinashe Gatimu/Caroline Gatimu, (Ken), Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10,3:16:11.1

11: Minesh Rathod/Jamia Mactavish, (Ken), Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10,3:18:29.8

12: Andrew Muiruri/Edward Njoroge, (Ken), Subaru Impreza STi N10, 3:27:21.2

13: Pauline Sheghu/Linet Ayuko, (Ken),  Subaru Impreza, 3:30:31.8

14: Edward Maina/Tony Gichohi, (Ken), Subaru Impreza STi N12, 4:19:00.0