Wed 21 Jun 2023

Preview: Safari Rally Kenya

FIA World Rally Championship leader Kalle Rovanperä hunts down back-to-back Safari Rally Kenya wins as the legendary African event celebrates its 70th edition for round seven of the series this week (22 - 25 June).

The Finnish prodigy, who became the youngest-ever WRC champion in 2022, arrives at what is widely regarded as the toughest round of the championship carrying a handy 25-point advantage. He’s filled with confidence knowing that his Toyota Gazoo Racing team has reigned supreme in the past three editions.

Twelve months ago, Rovanperä headed home a historic 1-2-3-4 finish for Toyota here - a feat achieved only once in the 29 years previous.

“It’s a rally that can depend a lot on the weather, because the conditions can change completely from one year to another. That makes it a really big challenge, but it’s one that suits us quite well, I think,” he said. “Hopefully we can have another strong weekend and score more good points for the championship.”

Eight-time world champion and part-time driver Sébastien Ogier, winner in 2021, returns to action aboard a similar GR Yaris, while Welshman Elfyn Evans steers the Japanese marque’s third car. Takamoto Katsuta, who boasts a flawless record of podium finishes in Kenya, also campaigns a Toyota but will not score manufacturers’ championship points.

Safari Rally Kenya 2023: Shakedown

Hyundai hopefuls Thierry Neuville, Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo are among those determined to spoil Toyota’s party. The i20 N team starts the rally buoyed by a double podium last time out in Italy, although Lappi admits he is entering the unknown on his maiden Safari outing.

“This is going to be a new adventure, a new territory for me - somewhere I’ve never been before,” he admitted. "I don’t know what to expect, but I think we know what the car is capable of.”

Ott Tänak, third in the points, spearheads M-Sport Ford’s charge. The Estonian teams up with young Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet as well as Greek privateer Jourdan Serderidis in identical Puma cars.  

Long straight roads where speeds could top 200kph contrast with rocky rutted tracks and deep fesh-fesh sand that can reduce cars to little more than walking pace. And, to add to the excitement, thunderstorms are predicted during the four-day encounter. If the forecasters are correct, rain could transform the dry sections into treacherous mud baths in minutes. 

The rally starts in Nairobi on Thursday lunchtime. Ahead lie 19 gruelling special stages around Lakes Naivasha and Elmenteita covering 355.92km before Sunday afternoon's finish in Naivasha.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM