On 21st June 2021, the first Bach of WRC cars particularly Ford M-sport landed at JK international airport in Kenya.
Immediately the live videos and pictures within no minute had flooded all digital media platforms globally, and eyes turned to Kenya as they welcome back the prestigious event which had been missing from the continent for over 19 years.
Ofcos the organizers (KMSF) did an excellent job and performed to the expectations in the event which was full of mixed emotions, ecstasy, and frustrations to participants.
On 22nd June,… the scrutineering began from the rally headquarters in Naivasha and this is where frustrations started from to some crews especially the locals.
Some of the components in the cars and racing gears which were supposed to be scrutinized were below WRC standards, which forced some crews to pull out from there and then while others kept on trying to sort all that was needed, so that they make it on start list and their life dream event.
Among the demands were roll cage certificates, not over sealed fire extinguishers, new homologated FIA Racing gears/ suits, FT3 tanks, all padded roll cages among others.
These left many local crews wondering what next especially to those who had no option to fix some of those issues, until a final decision was reached for them to run under the KNRC 4 classification.
On 23rd,.. the event started officially with a shakedown stage in Loldia Naivasha with a 5km stage.
The very first casualty was a 19year old Oliver Solberg who was making a debut in the WRC 1 car (Hyundai i20 coupe) on gravel stages.
On 24th cars headed for a super special stage at Kasarani double circuit where three Toyota gazoo Racing team cars took the day with a 1,2,3 and that was Sebastien Ogier, Kalle Rovanpera and Elfyn Evans.
On 25th,… the Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville came blazing and took the control of the rally after stage 2 as he put the i20 at blistering pace to maintain the lead through overnight of day 2.
The Agony…..It was Dani Sordo of team Hyundai who tested the safari bite first in stage 3 kedong 1 a few kilometers from the start, he spanned the i20 at a very high speeds and damaged the suspensions forcing him to retire prematurely.
Elfyn Evans became a second victim of kedong 1 in a tight S corner where he hit a rock and break the front right suspension too just like 3km away from the flying finish of stage 3 of day 2.
Oliver Solberg driving a Hyundai i20 became a 3rd victim of kedong 1 after breaking the rear right suspension only to damage the chassis and the roll bar. The young Norwegian his quest for safari ended there and then.
Local boy of kabras team Tejveer Rai driving a VW Polo R5, the unforgiving kedong 1 caught him offside and crashed the Polo beyond repair.
It took some minutes before being rescued from the wreckage due to the huge injuries on the spine and was flown to Nairobi for examination and further medical. The stage was cancelled after that heavy crash.
In the afternoon at the repeat of this very stage kedong, the only driver under WRC2 Martin Prokop driving a Ford fiesta R5 Mk 2, badly crashed out of the safari though the crew escaped with no injuries but again the stage was red flagged for the second time.
Day 3 went on smoothly to most of the crews, only Ott Tanak of team Hyundai lost time in sleeping warrior 2 after being caught up with rain yet he had a faulty whipping system. At a certain point he stopped and whipped the windscreen manually. For Neuville stretched the lead through day 3 overnight again, raising hopes of fans to win the safari rally on its maiden return.
Hell broke out in stage 14 Loldia 1 on the final day 4, the rally leader Thierry Neuville’s car suspension busted up from nowhere and he had to crawl out of stage.
Only to retire was an option since there was no service till rally had ended with 5 stages remaining.
Ecstacy….. the young Japanese Takamoto Katsuta who had a fantastic display from day one driving a Toyota yaris, took the lead from Neuville’s misfortune but only lasted for 2 stages before Sebastien Ogier knocked him off the first podium in the 2nd last stage.
The seven time world rally champion Sebastien Ogier went on to claim safari rally victory on its maiden return on the continent and makes history to have won every round of WRC he has ever done and driving a Toyota yaris this time.
Safari rally made a record over the weekend as the most watched sports event globally with over 865 million views.
The FIA and government of Kenya agreed there and then to have safari on the WRC calendar till 2026 meaning a deal of more 5 years.
The top five WRC finishers were
And the Kenyan crews of Onkar Rai, Karan Patel, and Carl Tundo finished 7th,8th, and 9th respectively in the overall classification driving R5 spec cars under WRC 3 category.