Wed 22 Jun 2022

Kenya know-how could prove M-Sport’s ace in the pack

M-Sport Ford is banking on its Safari Rally Kenya experience to build on a strong Rally Italia Sardegna outing earlier this month.

The British-based squad is the only one of the current FIA World Rally Championship teams which can call on significant African rallying expertise.

M-Sport guided the factory Fords on the Safari from 1997 until 2002, after which the rally disappeared from the calendar until its return 12 months ago. The event delivered two wins for Malcolm Wilson’s team in that time – with Colin McRae topping the podium in 1999 and 2002.

Team principal Richard Millener says knowledge of this week’s unique challenge could be vital as the squad aims to kick-on from Craig Breen’s second place and fourth for Pierre-Louis Loubet in Italy.

“We’ve got a lot of experience in the team,” he said. “Obviously it was quite a gap [from 2002 until 2021], but there’s a lot of know-how around here and that can only be a good thing for an event like the Safari.

“We enjoyed a good performance last year, and we learned that this rally can be a bit of a lottery…”

One of the men McRae beat in 2002 was Sébastien Loeb. The Frenchman makes his third start with M-Sport Ford this week and Millener is confident he can deliver.

“Sébastien Loeb and Safari Rally Kenya is a combination nobody thought was possible a few years ago,” added Millener, “never mind to be doing the rally in a Ford – which I think everybody is enthusiastic about.

“Obviously Séb is a guy with great experience from the Safari before, but also with off-road competition.”

Loeb finished Thursday morning’s shakedown in third in his Ford Puma Rally1, 1.8sec adrift of the fastest time of championship leader Kalle Rovanperä and 1.3sec behind Thierry Neuville.

He is joined in a five-car line-up by Breen, Adrien Fourmaux, Gus Greensmith, who scored a career-best fourth place in Kenya last year, and Jourdan Serderidis.

• Full coverage from Safari Rally Kenya will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park

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