What you need to know:
- Unbeknown to many, putting together a world-class rally is a meticulous effort by various teams, years ahead of competition and in most extreme of circumstances
- Led by Chief Executive Officer Phineas Kimathi and Event Director Jim Kahumbura, the WRC’s Local Organising Committee has been burning the midnight oil to ensure Kenya’s flawless return to the global circuit, despite numerous challenges, the most unwelcome being the coronavirus
- Clerk of the Course Gurvir Singh Bhabra, his deputies Nazir Yakub and George Mwangi, along with Safety Officers Norris Ongalo and Anwar Sidi have been the architects-in-chief as regards route-planning, conjuring up the scenic sections that will help sell Kenya to the world
As we eagerly await the return of the Safari Rally to the World Rally Championship circuit this June, let’s spare some time to celebrate the behind-the-scenes actors that have made this possible.
Unbeknown to many, putting together a world-class rally is a meticulous effort by various teams, years ahead of competition and in most extreme of circumstances.
Especially in the Kenyan wild where reptiles and wild animals lie in wait with the harsh terrain making route-planning one of the most difficult of tasks.
This year’s WRC Safari Rally’s fantastic route will be concentrated in the Great Rift Valley after the ceremonial start at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre and spectator-friendly Super Special Stage on Thursday, June 24.
On Friday, June 25, the rally attacks sections two (Chui Lodge), three (Kedong) and four (Oserian), each to be run twice, covering a day’s total competitive distance of 65.45 kilometres.
Saturday (June 26) will see the cars venture into Elmenteita, Soysambu and Sleeping Warrior, again twice through each section over a total 50.6 competitive kilometres.
The final day of competition (Sunday, June 27) takes the crews over 31.6 kilometres through Loldia, Hell’s Gate and Malewa (also run twice each) with the show-stopping, scenic Power Stage at Hell’s Gate bringing the curtain down on the action.
These stages that cut largely across the Oserengoni Wildlife Conservancy, the expansive Delamere Estate and the beautiful Hell’s Gate National Park will showcase part of Kenya’s amazing scenery to the world with a huge global television audience expected to be hooked onto the live WRC TV coverage of the spectacle.
Led by Chief Executive Officer Phineas Kimathi and Event Director Jim Kahumbura, the WRC’s Local Organising Committee has been burning the midnight oil to ensure Kenya’s flawless return to the global circuit, despite numerous challenges, the most unwelcome being the coronavirus.
Clerk of the Course Gurvir Singh Bhabra, his deputies Nazir Yakub and George Mwangi, along with Safety Officers Norris Ongalo and Anwar Sidi have been the architects-in-chief as regards route-planning, conjuring up the scenic sections that will help sell Kenya to the world. Unlike the Safari Rally of old, this year’s comeback rally will have shorter and faster stages on closed roads in compliance with International Automobile Federation (FIA) rules around safety.
And that’s why the legendary sections in Taita Hills, Flouspar, Cherangany, Corner Baridi, etc aren’t in the equation in this compact competition that celebrates speed rather than endurance.
“Modern Rally cars demand a service after 80 kilometres of special stages – and an added 40 or so kilometres of transport sections – so ensuring the rally runs in a “clover leaf” pattern is the only way a Service Park works – with loops that start and end within the recommended total distance from the Service Park,” explains the veteran Yakub.
“WRC rallies are regulated to run over four days – bedding down every night at the Service Park.”
Yakub further explains the art of route selection: “The route to be selected — with the two important aspects in mind (Service Park and Medical) — must be free of any non-rally traffic, competitively rough, endowed with escape routes and long enough to test the modern WRC car and the crew’s technical ability to manage the car and tyres while still remaining competitive. All within the regulated 300 to 350 kilometres of total competitive distance.
“For Kenya and our Safari Rally — a World Rally Championship round would be the culmination of our dedicated endeavours to regain our lost glory.
“Yes, it wouldn’t be the 5,000 kilometres adventure across East Africa that it was, but, instead, it will be a child of the modern era of World Rallying — complete with all the emotions and adrenaline that coursed through our Kenyan veins over two decades ago on Easter weekend.”
Anwar Sidi, a legendary motorsports photographer with four decades of experienced tucked under his belt, is one of the unsung heroes of the Safari Rally’s comeback.
Anwar and Clerk of the Course Bhabra have covered a cumulative distance of over 160,000 kilometres back-and-forth since 2018, creating GPS coordinates and conjuring up rally routes out of bushes, rocks and mere goat tracks.
Some of the sections they created were used in 2019 when the Safari Rally was run as a Candidate Event for the WRC, the challenging route endorsed by FIA Rally Safety Co-ordinator Michelle Mouton, herself a Safari Rally legend.
Anwar has also been instrumental in developing key documents for the WRC Safari Rally, including rally guides, spectator guides, road books, etc.
Having developed most of the routes from private farms, Anwar will gleefully appreciate the fact that the farmer have been boosted by compensation from the rally’s organisers. Some have subsequently erected electric fences around their farms from the proceeds, used part of the rally windfall to cushion their workers’ incomes and also cashed in on the fresh competition roads as firebreaks.
In other words, the WRC Safari Rally’s legacy in the local community is huge, the more reason we should celebrate indefatigable individuals like Anwar and other behind-the-scenes patriots who have put together the Safari show.