By VoS CORRESPONDENT
NAIROBI KENYA, October 3, 2019–KENYA’S Safari Rally people were there watching; as Kris Meeke and Toyota won Thursday night’s opening speed test at Wales Rally GB as heavy rain made conditions treacherous on the asphalt and gravel roads at Oulton Park motor racing circuit.
The Safari Rally is back as part of the World Rally Championship (WRC) and its organizers are picking up every opportunity to attain top operations standards well ahead of Safari’s 2020 date of July 16-19.
Phineas Kimathi, Chief Executive Officer WRC Safari Rally Project who is also in the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) Rallies Commission leads the Kenyan delegation in Wales.
The Safari Rally clerk of course, Gurvir Babra, leads a number of other WRC Safari Rally Project technical experts for a study tour in Britain during the ongoing Wales Rally. They also include; Nazir Yakub (Assistant Clerk of Course), Anwar Sidi (Media Safety and Route Liaison), Anthony Gatei (Service Park Manager) and Wambui Kiiru (Secretary to the Stewards). Last week, the FIA announced the return of the Safari Rally, alongside the rallies of Japan and New Zealand, to the WRC calendar saying: “It means the WRC returns to Africa, the world’s second-largest continent by size, for the first time since 2002.”
The announcement described the Safari as “notorious for being the WRC’s toughest round as open-road gravel tracks, unpredictable weather, and a route three times longer than other rallies created hazards unmatched elsewhere.”
“We are straight in work for our calendar date next year, energized, confident and focused because now that our (WRC) status is clear. We want to do a good job,” said Kimathi.
At the start of the Wales GB Rally on Thursday, the Ulsterman Meek, who was fastest in the morning’s shakedown, finished the 3.58km special stage with a 2.1sec advantage in his Toyota Yaris over Belgium’s Thierry Neuville, at the wheel of a Hyundai i20.
That was tricky. It was dark, slippery and tricky and in those conditions on a race circuit, it was like ice. There are no points for today, so let’s try to have a good weekend,” said Meeke.
After the late afternoon start ceremony in Liverpool, the curtain-raiser for this 12th round of the FIA World Rally Championship almost provided a fairytale story for Petter Solberg.
The 2003 world champion and four-time GB winner, competing in his last rally before retirement, topped the leaderboard for much of the evening in his support category Volkswagen Polo R5 before being overhauled by Meeke and Neuville.
The 44-year-old Norwegian finished 3.3sec off the lead in third, 0.5sec clear of reigning world champion Sébastien Ogier’s Citroën C3. Andreas Mikkelsen, driving an i20, and Esapekka Lappi, in another C3, completed the top six.
It was a nightmare start for championship leader Ott Tänak who was down in 12th after yielding almost 9sec to team-mate Meeke.
“The engine stopped. I had no lights, they were pointing to the top of the trees and I completely missed the corner,” explained the Estonian.
The full WRC 2020 calendar is:
The full 2020 calendar is:
ROUND RALLY DATE
1. Monte-Carlo 23 – 26 January
2. Sweden 13 – 16 February
3. Mexico 12 – 15 March
4. Chile 16 – 19 April
5. Argentina 30 April – 3 May
6. Portugal 21 – 24 May
7. Italy 4 – 7 June
8. Kenya 16 – 19 July
9. Finland 6 – 9 August
10. New Zealand 3 – 6 September
11. Turkey 24 – 27 September
12. Germany 15 – 18 October
13. Great Britain 29 October – 1 November
14. Japan 19 – 22 November
-Majority of reporting by wrc.com
-Additional reporting by wrc.com