Will WRC Safari Rally Kenya be an all-French affair between Sébastien Ogier and his namesake Sébastien Loeb- or can youngster Kalle Rovanperä be the guy to ruffle feathers on the world’s toughest rally?
That’s the million dollar question Safari purists in Kenya are asking well in time for the fabled motor rallying fixture slated for June 23-25 in Nairobi and Naivasha.
Asked who the “King of Naivasha” will be when the volcanic ash soil finally settles on the 2022 edition, three times Kenya Champion and 2006 Safari Rally winner Azar Anwar believes: each of three teams (M-Sport Ford, Hyundai and Toyota Gazoo Racing) has a realistic chance of winning the Kenyan round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
“The elite drivers’ line up is incredible. WRC Safari Rally promises to be a titanic battle. I’m wondering if finally a youngstar will trump the veterans?”
“But then again, the Safari needs a tactical and cautious approach, so most likely it will be the veterans who will conserve their machines to fight for a win on the last day,” explained Azar.
Mombasa navigator Victor Okundi believes this season is Kalle’s. Okundi is also convinced that Kalle has found his niche and is comfortable where he is.
Okundi also observes that Kalle’s pace is unreachable and that he’s always exhibiting next level, self control and assertion.
“But he (Kalle) has to keep his head in the championship fight. Safari, on the other hand, will most likely go to either of the Sebs. My money is on Loeb because the current generation of the M-Sport Ford is really good. Hyundai drivers still haven’t found the mojo.”
“Lately Neuville looks like he’s really over-driving it to get results so Hyundai is not likely to be impressive on Safari,” said Okundi.
Former Kenya Two Wheel Drive Navigators’ Champion Wayne Fernandes, on his part, commented: “This year it’s Gazoo all the way. I have been a Toyota fan from the days of the Toyota Celica with Carlos Sainz, Ian Duncan and the late Jonathan Toroitich aka JT.”
–Kalle’s moment of glory–
Fernandes went on: “This is Kalle’s year and with Seb as his teammate, the Toyotas will dictate the pace from the start to end.”
” Unfortunately, the lead Toyota went out last year on Day 2, but we managed to come back strongly. We are in a Toyota country- so the car in front is always a Toyota.”
Dennis Mwenda, former Kenya Two Wheel Drive drivers champion, said: “Before the fesh fesh last year, Kalle was way ahead of all of them and well on course for unprecedented success.”
“This year, in my opinion, it’ll depend on the road positions. I think the experience of Ogier and Loeb will really count but let’s see how Kalle performs in Portugal as it’s a gravel event like Kenya that is being graced by both Ogier and Loeb”
Mwenda thinks that if Kalle wins in Portugal from the start or sets some good times on the first day then he would tip him to win the Safari.
“No one can march (Ott) Tanak’s pace when he is on song. The problem is that Neuville takes advantage and beats him. However, I like Neuville. He’s a good driver and a cool guy too,” Mwenda narrated.
It had been a nineteen year hiatus, in the face of the global outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, but last year’s eagerly awaited event didn’t disappoint.
Famously known for its energy-sapping stage runs, the Safari had lost none of what once made it the world’s toughest fixture.
After Thursday and Friday’s running, it was Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville who led the way when several championship speedsters bore the full brunt the loose Kenyan dust. Ogier snatched an unlikely victory after longtime leader Neuville’s dreams were shattered alongside his car’s suspension.
WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2022 is being sponsored by KCB Bank Kenya and Toyota Kenya among others.
The event will revolve around Nairobi and Naivasha covering a total distance of 1226.23km.
Shakedown returns to Ndulele Conservancy for the second years running on June 22, whereas Kasarani Super Special Stage on June 23 will see WRC crews recce in their Rally 1 hybrids.
WRC STANDINGS AFTER CROATIA
1 ( FIN) K. ROVANPERÄ 76
2 (BEL) T. NEUVILLE 47
3 (IRL) C. BREEN 30
4 (FRA) S. LOEB 27
5 (EST) O. TÄNAK 27
6 (JPN) T. KATSUTA 26
7 (GBR) G. GREENSMITH 20
8 (FRA) S. OGIER 19
9 (GBR) E. EVANS 17
10 (FIN) E. LAPPI 15
Picture Courtesy of www.wrc.com