What you need to know:
- I implore hotels to reconsider their decision to take advantage of rally traffic to help secure the future of the sport.
- If the foreign media and fans skip the WRC Safari Rally, eventually it will lose its shine and drop off the international radar, again.
Last weekend’s World Rally Portugal was a huge demonstration of what spectator interest can do to elevate sport.
Thousands of fans thronged the rally’s 21 stages, with many of these camping for several nights to gain vantage points in following the competition.
Fittingly, as though to reward their interest, WRC Rally Portugal organisers threw in the spectacle of classic rally cars, some driven by rally legends, through some of the stages in celebration of the World Rally Championship’s golden jubilee year.
It was nostalgic watching the likes of Walter Röhrl, the 1980 and 82 world rally champion, now 75 years old, power his classic Audi Quattro through the historic Fafe Stage on the rally’s final day on Sunday.
Besides Röhrl, other legends at the WRC’s 50th anniversary celebrations were names familiar to Kenyans, like Finns Marcus Grönholm and Ari Vatanen, Italian Miki Biasion and Spain’s Carlos Sainz who were joined by legendary navigators Robert Reid, Derek Ringer and David Richards (all British), Spain’s Luis Moya, Christian Geistdörfer of Germany, Italy’s Tiziano Siviero and Timo Rautiainen of Finland.
France’s Michèle Mouton and her Italian navigator of old, Fabrizia Pons, to date the only all-female crew to win a round of the World Rally Championship, were also present.
Mouton is a regular in Kenya as a safety delegate of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) ensuring that all safety aspects of the WRC Safari Rally are in place.
Most of these legends will also be visiting Kenya to follow the Safari Rally, a WRC round they hold in high esteem, and with fond memories.
I’m certain Harri Rovanpera will be in Naivasha next month.
First, to urge on his son, WRC drivers’ points leader Kalle Rovanpera, and, second, to relive the days when, navigated by Pietilainen Risto, he finished sixth on his Safari debut in a Seat Cordoba in 1999.
Harri returned in a Peugeot 206 to finish second in 2001, and again in 2002 when the Safari Rally appeared for the last time on the global calendar before it was readmitted to the global fold last year.
It was never easy for the Safari to jump back onto the World Rally Championship circuit.
The more reason this national heritage must be jealously guarded, especially now that President Uhuru Kenyatta, Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed (who is also a member of the FIA’s World Motorsport Council), Safari CEO Phineas Kimathi and his team made the necessary guarantees and convinced that FIA that the Safari remains on the global circuit at least until 2026.
The extension deal signed in Monaco in January means the FIA will continue to scrutinise the WRC Safari Rally’s organisational detail and trustworthiness.
That’s why it is worrying to learn that some hotel owners in Naivasha have more than tripled room charges merely to take advantage of rally guests.
Such selfish motive has seen some foreign rally journalists rethink their trip to Kenya, with spectators equally worried about the exaggerated rates.
Sample this letter from a foreign motorsport journalist friend (he speaks for many) that I received recently:
I am reaching you regarding the price of hotels in Naivasha.
Last year I stayed at Naivasha Country Club, this year the room rate is 150 US$ more expensive than last year.
No media photographer can pay 400 US$ per day for one single room.
How do you explain this increase?
Can you consider asking the hotels to set a special rate for the media?
You must understand that the media cannot stay in hotels where there is no security for their photographic equipment.
Hotel prices are more expensive than in Finland, which is considered the most expensive rally of the year.
Also it is not possible to stay in Nakuru, where the hotels are cheaper because of traffic problems, if the police decide to block the access roads to the rally like last year.
I hope that my request will get your attention, otherwise my agency will reconsider the trip, which is way beyond its budget for the WRC, which is not the most popular sport at this time in Europe.
I implore hotels to reconsider their decision to take advantage of rally traffic to help secure the future of the sport.
If the foreign media and fans skip the WRC Safari Rally, eventually it will lose its shine and drop off the international radar, again.
We stayed in the cold for 19 years and wouldn’t like to go back there!
The ball is squarely on the court of the Kenya Tourism Board, Nakuru County Tourism Association and similar like-minded organisations to inject sanity and help these unscrupulous hotels to put country before bank balance.
* * * *
It was clearly Finland’s weekend at Rally Portugal with Finns Kalle Rovanpera and Sami Pajari winning the main and junior titles.
Pajari survived tyre gremlins that highlighted the weekend to plough his way up to the top, his M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally3 winning by five minutes, 40.2 seconds.
Kenya’s McRae Kimathi finished fifth after rejoining the rally (under the new rules) following his crash on Friday.
He then suffered mechanical problems on Saturday but soldiered on to bring his M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally3 car back to the podium, one hour, 56 minutes and 38.9 seconds behind Pajari.
This was a commendable achievement, considering that Ireland’s sixth driver in the Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC) category, William Creighton, failed to finish at all with suspension problems.
Kimathi now has Estonia and Greece remaining on his JWRC campaign for 2022, and I wish him well.
Pajari’s and Rovanpera’s stories show why starting motorsport early in the Finnish system is paying dividends.
At 21, Rovanpera easily qualifies for the JWRC, but his pedigree and results are already positioning him to become the youngest ever world rally champion!