WRC returns to Kenya for Safari into the Unknown

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Nairobi (AFP)

The World Rally Championship has changed since their last East Africa safari in 2002, but while the track tames for their return to Kenya, the race is still a journey into the unknown for the teams and drivers.

In 2002, when the World Rally Championship last visited Kenya, the race comprised 12 stages, none of which were shorter than 73 km for a total of 1,010 km.

This time the format with 18 special stages over a total of 320.19 km is closer to modern European rallies.

In 2002, drivers dodged the wild life and the spectators huddled along the road.

The potholed terrain was a car killer, with only nine out of 20 starters finishing the race, which was won by Scot Colin McRae in a Ford.

Finn Harri Rovanpera finished second in a Peugeot and his son Kalle, who is sixth in this year’s drivers’ championship in a Toyota Yaris, heard all about this race.

“I saw all the old videos from back then and he told a lot of stories,” the younger Rovanpera told his team website, adding: “Rallying is very different now.”

But the landscape harbors unfamiliar dangers.

“It’s a challenge, that’s for sure,” said Toyota team-mate and championship leader Sebastian Ogier in a video press conference on Wednesday after finishing the fastest in the pre-race shakedown earlier in the day.

“The biggest challenge for me will be to find the right rhythm, to be quick in some places and to survive in the trickier sections.”

“I feel ready, but if you can really be ready for a rally like this, I don’t know,” he said.

“It’s very dry, so we won’t see any pictures of cars driving through huge puddles of mud like in the old days,” added Ogier.

“We will have a lot of Fesh-Fesh sections because it has not rained for a long time and we get a lot of sand and dust in the cars.”

“We’ll have to set our goals a bit differently: We’re driving in the WRC today in such a way that we’re constantly pushing the limits, but it will be much more about getting through the rally without any problems,” said Ogier.

Toyota has won four of the last five rallies and Ogier is eleven points ahead of teammate Elfyn Evans.

– ‘Avoid Big Holes’ –

“I suspect it won’t be the smoothest event on the calendar and it could be a great test for the car and maybe for the crew,” said the Welshman Evans.

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville is her closest pursuer, 29 points behind Ogier.

Both Toyota and Hyundai were in Spain to test new suspensions that can withstand more extreme conditions.

“We have to avoid the big holes, not damage the car, even if that means a heavy delay in some places,” said Neuville. “It will be the biggest challenge in modern WRC, a lot will happen …”

“I don’t know what to expect but I hope to come back with a big trophy,” said the Belgian. “We’ll see zebras, elephants and giraffes. It’ll be fun!”

The race starts on Thursday afternoon with a 5km city stage in Nairobi before heading out into the bush.

About Veronica Richards

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