The sixth leg of the 2022 World Rally Championship (WRC), the Safari Rally, starts tomorrow in Naivasha.
All three top automakers; Toyota Gazoo Racing, Hyundai Motorsport and M-Sport Ford have supplied their best wheel spinners to the grueling rally to help them score points in the 13-legged series.
On the other hand, local drivers struggled to get their machines in order ahead of the global motorsport showpiece.
Under; Standard Sports lists 10 things to consider when preparing for Rally Safari, arguably the world’s toughest motorsport challenge.
- financial muscle
If you want to take part in the safari rally, you have to be in good financial shape. A Rally1 category car costs no less than 100 million Sh (1 million USD). The new generation hybrid cars from the top 3 manufacturers; Toyota Gazoo Racing (GR Yaris Rally1), Hyundai Motorsport (i20 N Rally1) and M-Sport Ford (Puma Rally1) fly over the rough terrain of Naivasha. If you look at it, 100 million Sh is not a piece of cake. A serious driver should therefore look for sponsors to fund their dream of a successful safari adventure. That’s what the Kenyan paraplegic Nikhil Sachania did before the safari rally. The former Kenyan Motorsport Personality of the Year winner secured a lucrative deal with KCB Bank, which will handle his logistics at the Championships. Kenyan National Rally Championship (KNRC) driver Evans Kavisi, 34, also secured a deal with the bankers.
- Competent crew
Any competitor looking to achieve impressive stage results needs to have a capable team on site. It’s the mechanics that come in handy when it counts. A mobile garage helps them easily change wheels and other parts of the vehicle. From the team comes a driver and his navigator with clear and convincing notes. “The international riders who come to Kenya will give us a complete picture of where the sport is headed in the years to come because their crew is using the technology more than we are. Even if I don’t win anything in Safari Rally, I’m happy to learn about the international drivers’ approach to rallying,” said driver Kavisi.
- Compliance with FIA standards
Drivers must constantly update themselves with the new rules set by the world governing body of motorsport. Last season, several local drivers were kicked out of Safari Rally scrutineering for failing to upgrade their machines to the required FIA standards. Most did not have FIA approved fuel tanks and the computerized navigation systems mounted in their vehicles. The ax saw 13 riders fall just a day before the championships begin. At the same time, three other local drivers were relegated to the lower KNRC Group 4 tier.
- A healthy relationship with the navigator
A genuine bond between driver and navigator is key to winning a safari rally competition. Both Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier, who have nine and eight WRC championship records respectively, have had their co-drivers for years. This has given them enough time to bond and get to know each other well, which translates into winning streaks. “To get better, we have to rely on each other a lot. If we don’t trust each other, we can’t compete at a higher level,” said Kenyan rider Rio Smith.
- go test drives
Each top candidate for the WRC has to complete several practice sessions before the rally. Smith, for example, has been conducting his drills at Ngong Hills, Athi River and the new routes around Naivasha where the Safari Rally will take place. Kavisi, who will be navigated by his longtime partner Absalom Aswani, has already completed five such test drives in the rough stretches of the Athi River. KNRC driver Hussein Malik also travels to Lukenya every month for similar tests in his Mitsubishi Evolution 10 machine. “Testing the car before the championships is mandatory. It helps a competitor to know the areas that need repairs ahead of the rally,” said Kavisi.
- Recce is a must
Unlike the East African Safari Classic Rally, the WRC map is accessible to participants prior to the rally. Participants may have prior knowledge of the track, whether it’s gravel, tarmac or tarmac. Due to the availability of technology, drivers are now able to dig up the most information before the competition. Knowing the stages is also an added benefit as it gives participants an edge over their competition. On Monday, all drivers took part in pre-rally safari reconnaissance.
- Fitness is key for rally drivers
To be a top contender for the Safari Rally title, you need to be fit. Gymnastics and physical training are a must. Look at all drivers who have won championships, they have one thing in common; You look slim and fit. Last season, Malik hit the gym to stay healthy ahead of Safari Rally Kenya’s return after a 19-year hiatus. The 41-year-old father of two devoted himself to motorsport-related exercises such as focus, balance, endurance and focus at the gym, which helped him lose over 40kg. “Rallying means an adrenaline rush. If you are not fit, you will tire quickly and lose concentration. That makes you very slow on the bike,” said Malik. Likewise, Smith began his fitness journey ahead of this year’s Safari Rally.
- The right planning makes the difference
If you don’t plan, then you plan to fail. Due to the high standards of Safari Rally, any serious driver needs to plan their trip well and carefully. “During the classic rally in East Africa, we saw that preparation and planning is about 80 percent of the whole process, while competition is only about 20 percent.
- Watch what you eat and drink
Some participants take their diet seriously as they prepare for the safari odyssey. Currently, Smith has dropped all of the junk food he consumed and only eats cooked chicken and vegetables.
- A big leap of faith
For some drivers, rallying is like playing with death because of the high speed. As such, some participants have strengthened their faith just to help them sail through the adrenaline-pumping journey. Ahead of his WRC debut last year, Smith developed a ritual that he will repeat at this year’s Safari Rally. He continues to pray, checking the car twice to make sure all parts are intact.