Safari Rally Kenya

A year ago, the Toyota GAZOO RACING team won the Safari Rally Kenya, the Japanese carmaker’s  first on the gruelling African event since Yoshio Fujimoto/Arne Hertz won the 43rd Safari in 1995 in a Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD.

This year, doing even better than the 1-2 finish in the 2021 event, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing made a remarkable clean sweep of the top 4 positions with the GR YARIS Rally1 car. Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta joined winner Kalle Rovanpera on the podium, with Sebastien Ogier (last year‘s winner) in fourth. The next best-placed car finished 8½ minutes behind the Toyota quartet.

It was also a landmark 10th victory for Toyota on the famous African event, and the first time it has achieved a 1-2-3-4 finish in the WRC since the very same rally in 1993. Only once has any other manufacturer achieved the same feat in the championship in nearly three decades since.

In its second running since returning to the WRC calendar last year, the Safari delivered even tougher conditions, including deep ‘fesh-fesh’ sand on Friday and wet and muddy surfaces on Saturday in addition to the ever-present rocks and stones. It was by far the hardest challenge yet for the new generation of hybrid-powered Rally1 cars.

Rovanpera had an early scare when he ran wide on the very first corner on Thursday’s opening super special in Nairobi and knocked a tyre off its rim. But he and co-driver Jonne Halttunen ran faultlessly thereafter on the way to their fourth victory in 6 rounds, increasing their championship lead to 65 points.

Rovanpera actually never expected to win this rally. He arrived in Kenya with a commanding points lead and played down his glory hopes, instead starting with the mindset that any points from the championship’s roughest encounter would be a bonus. And despite feeling unwell, he strengthened his position on Saturday and thrived in waterlogged conditions as downpours derailed many of his rivals’ hopes. The sizeable 40.3-second margin he carried into Sunday’s finale was extended further by another 2 fastest times and the youngster ended the tough 4-day event in the lead of the Yaris quartet.

Evans and his co-driver Scott Martin also performed superbly and ran their team-mates close for the victory, remaining within 20 seconds of the lead until the rain hit on Saturday afternoon. They finished up 52.8 seconds away as they scored their second podium of the season.

Ogier, the 2021 event winner, led for most of Friday in the defence of his crown until he had to stop and change a tyre on the day’s final stage, losing over 2 minutes. He and co-driver Benjamin Veillas fought back to fourth overall and, with their team-mates focused on reaching their finish, set the third-fastest time in the rally-ending Power Stage to add to the team’s points haul from the weekend. Its Manufacturers’ championship lead has increased to 62 points.

The hotly-anticipated battle with compatriot Sebastien Loeb never materialised either, as the 9-time world champion retired his M-Sport Ford Puma with engine problems on Friday. Nevertheless, Ogier was able to bring home more solid points for Toyota during his part-time campaign.

Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville was over 10 minutes behind in fifth overall, despite incurring a 10-minute penalty when he crashed into a tree and failed to finish Saturday’s Sleeping Warrior finale. It was a weekend to forget for the Korean manufacturer, with Estonian Ott Tanak’s i20 N also sidelined by a broken propshaft on the penultimate leg and retiring for a second time with power steering failure on Sunday.

Craig Breen restarted after his early bath on Friday and ended as M-Sport Ford’s leading driver in sixth overall despite nursing suspension problems. Breen gained a position when Oliver Solberg stopped in the middle of the road with an air filter full of dust, causing the cancellation of Sunday’s opener. The young Swede eventually got going again but was plagued by a mechanical issue in the closing speed tests and dropped to 10th.

Competing in Africa for the first time, and having led from start to finish in a Skoda Fabia Rally2, Kajetan Kajetanowicz won the WRC2 class by the massive margin and topped off a perfect weekend by scoring maximum bonus points in the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage. He leapt from fifth in the standings to lead by 5 points after six of 13 rounds.

1. Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1) 3:40:24.9 secs
2. Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1) +52.8 secs
3. Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1) +1 min 42.7 secs
4. Sebastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1) +2 mins 10.3 secs
5. Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +10 mins 40.9 secs
6. Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Ford Puma Rally1) +23 mins 27.9 secs
7. Jourdan Serderidis/Frederic Miclotte (Ford Puma Rally1) +30 mins 16.5 secs
8. Sebastien Loeb/Isabelle Galmiche (Ford Puma Rally1) +32 mins 12.6 secs
9. Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +35 mins 37.6 secs
10. Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +37 mins 36.6 secs

The story behind TOYOTA GAZOO Racing and why it was created

During the 1970s, Japanese cars began to enter international motorsports events and their presence became increasingly noted as they won major events. One such event was the legendary East African Safari Rally, a tough dusty event that went around the Kenya countryside. As it was part of the World Rally Championship, major manufacturers took part and among them was Nissan, which used different models.

It was the iconic Datsun 240Z sportscar which won the 1971 event, driven by Edgar Herrmann with navigator Hans Schuller. To underline the superiority of the 240Z, two other cars finished in second and seventh positions. Furthermore, the victory represented the brand’s second consecutive victory in the rally. The sleek and low-slung 240Z was powered by a 2.4-litre straight-six engine, producing 210 ps.

The victorious car is on display today, having been fully restored in 2013. It is part of Nissan’s Heritage Collection which is housed in Zama, close to Nissan global headquarters in Japan.

Nissan Juke Rally Tribute Concept 2021

Revealed on the first day of 2021 event
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Nissan’s victory in the Safari Rally, the carmaker is preparing a Juke Rally Tribute Concept. These images are being released to coincide with the first day of the Safari Rally Kenya which sees the event once again being on the WRC calendar after an absence of 19 years.

The JUKE Rally Tribute Concept, as you can guess, is developed from a production Juke. It’s a very appropriate car to use with a raised stance, short front and rear overhangs strong potential off-road performance.

With enlarged wheels arches to accommodate the tailor-made off-road tyres, the vehicle’s stance is made more imposing, while the additional lights mounted on the bonnet and roof are reminiscent of the old rallycars. Back then, rallies were also run through the night so extra and powerful lighting was important. Two spare wheels are also visible at the back.

Nissan Juke Rally Tribute Concept 2021

Nissan Juke Rally Tribute Concept 2021

Colour themes reminiscent of 240Z rallycar
The JUKE Rally Tribute Concept’s black bonnet and black wheels are especially related to the 1971 240Z that competed in the RALLY. Those same cues also served as inspiration for the Gripz concept car which Nissan presented at Frankfurt Motor Show in 2015 which, in turn, influenced the design of the production Juke that was introduced in 2019.

A major difference under the bonnet is the type of powertrain used. While the rallycars of the 1970s had petrol engines, the Juke Rally Tribute Concept will have an electric hybrid powertrain. This is in support of Nissan’s commitment to the electrification of its range, especially in Europe.

“The Juke Rally Tribute Concept celebrates an iconic moment in Nissan’s heritage, with the participation and victory of the legendary 240Z in the East African Rally in 1971. As well as celebrating that victory, it reflects Nissan’s pioneering history in crossovers, striking design and electrified powertrains. We’re delighted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the victory of that remarkable achievement with these striking images,” said Coralie Musy, Vice-President, Brand and Customer Experience, Nissan Automotive Europe.

Nissan Juke Rally Tribute Concept 2021

The 2021 Safari Rally Kenya
The Safari Rally Kenya starts today as the sixth round of the 2021 World Rally Championship. It was to have been run last year but the pandemic forced its cancellation. Instead of the route of 6000 kms of open-road of yesteryear, the event will have 18 stages and a total of 320.19 competitive kilometres. But what remains unchanged is the dusty conditions (which could also be wet and muddy), rough terrain and high temperatures – and they will also see wildlife like the drivers in the 1970s. None of the WRC’s frontline drivers have experienced the Safari, which means ‘adventure’ in the Swahili language.

Safari Rally Kenya to run next week after an absence of 19 years from WRC (w/VIDEO)

Next week, the Safari Rally in Kenya takes place as the sixth round of the 2021 World Rally Championship (WRC). First held in 1953, the Safari Rally became part of the WRC calendar from the inaugural season of the championship in 1973 until 2002, after which it was excluded due to financial and organisational issues. It was to have been run again last year but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented it from being run. Although excluded from being in the WRC, the Safari Rally remained part of the African Rally Championship.

The Safari Rally earned a reputation as the toughest event on the calendar, with a route covering enormous distances in tough conditions characterised by high temperatures and dust. Top factory teams sent drivers like Bjorn Waldegard, Ari Vatanen, Hannu Mikkola, Michele Mouton and many others in legendary rallycars like the Audi Quattro, Toyota Celica TwinCam Turbo, Nissan 240 RS, Datsun Violet, with the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo dominant in the 2000s.

For its return, the format of the event will be closer to a typical WRC round but teams and drivers can still expect an extremely demanding rally, with rough and rocky roads as well as the potential for unpredictable weather.

The Group B Celica Twin Cam Turbo won the Safari Rally three years in a row.
The Mitsubishi Lancer was also well known in the earlier years of the Safari Rally and also in the 2000s when the EVO model won year after year.

320 kms of stages over 3 days
Safari Rally Kenya 2021, as the event is officially known, will have 18 stages and a total of 320.19 competitive kilometres. The rally will start from the capital city of Nairobi  with an opening Super Special Stage in nearby Kasarani. The rest of the rally takes place around Naivasha, with Friday featuring a trio of stages on the Navaisha lake’s southern shores to all be run twice. Saturday’s format is the same but takes place further north near Lake Elmenteita. A total of 5 stages brings the rally to a close on Sunday, with the ‘Hells Gate’ test to host the deciding Wolf Power Stage.

Current generation has no Safari experience
The current generation of WRC drivers have never had Safari Rally experience so it will be a new challenge for them, even for 7-time World Champion Sebastien Ogier who heads the standings after winning the Rally Italia Sardegna. It will also be the first time the Toyota Yaris WRC is entering an event in Africa.

“I believe this rally will be very different from anything I have done before. We’ve heard a lot that we are going to have to set our targets a little differently. The way we drive nowadays in the WRC is by really pushing the limits all of the time. But when we go to Kenya, it will be much more about trying to survive the rally without trouble. I think it can be interesting to have a challenge like this during the year. It has been hard to know what is the right way to prepare, so I think the drivers will probably have to adapt a bit during the rally, but the recce will certainly be important to understand what is ahead of us,” Ogier said.

Competing in the WRC2 category with a Hyundai R5 (below), Oliver Solberg (above right) is not only one of the youngest competitors in the event but his father, Petter (left) also took part in the Safari Rally on several occasions in earlier years.

Very young and very old drivers
For one of the entrants – Oliver Solberg – taking part in the rally will be following his father’s participation in 1999. Peter’s father, Petter Solberg, took part in a Ford Focus WRC and was one of the youngest in the manufacturers’ team line-up then – finishing a credible fifth. He later took part in the event with the Subaru team. At 19, Oliver is one of the youngest drivers taking part and will compete in the WRC2 class with a Hyundai R5.

There will also be a 91-year old driver from Poland – Sobieslow Zasada. Active in the sport in the 1960s and 1970,  he finished second in the 1972 event (driving a Porsche 911S) and last took part in the Safari Rally in 1997. For this 2021 event, he will be in a Ford Fiesta Rally3 run by M-Sport Poland.

One of the participants taking part is Sobieslow Zasada from Poland (above left). He was 41 years old when he was second in the Safari Rally in 1971 in a Porsche 911S and this year, at the age of 91, he will be driving a Ford Fiesta WRC in the event.

The entry list has 58 drivers, 34 of them Kenyans. All the three factory teams in Rally1 cars – Toyota GAZOO Racing, Ford M-Sport, and Hyundai Motorsport – will be present, while there will be 11 of the second-tier Rally2 machines.

“It will be an interesting Safari Rally especially on how the old and the young will perform,” said Phineas Kimathi, WRC Safari Rally CEO, adding that Toyota Kenya has provided two Hilux trucks for use as Zero Vehicles which examine each stage before the competitors start.

Karamjit Singh Confirms Rallying Comeback With Cisco Racing Team!



Follow us on Facebook

Follow us on YouTube