This is what it takes to prepare for Safari Rally

Toyota Gazoo Racing service crew works on rally cars at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Training Institute Service Park in Naivasha, on Monday. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The sixth leg of the 2022 World Rally Championships (WRC), the Safari Rally, starts in Naivasha tomorrow.

All the top three automakers; Toyota Gazoo Racing, Hyundai Motorsport and M-Sport Ford have shipped in their best wheel spinners for the grueling rally to help them amass points in the 13 legged series.

On the other hand, local drivers have been struggling to put their machines in order ahead of the global motorsport showpiece.

Below; Standard Sports picks out 10 things to consider while preparing for Safari Rally, which is arguably the toughest motorsport challenge on the earth.

  1. Financial muscle

For one to take part in the Safari Rally, they need to be well oiled, financially. A Rally1 category car goes for not less than Sh100 million (USD 1 million). The new-generation hybrid cars by the top three manufacturers; Toyota Gazoo Racing (GR Yaris Rally1), Hyundai Motorsport (i20 N Rally1) and M-Sport Ford (Puma Rally1) will be flying over the rough terrains of Naivasha. When you look at it, Sh100 million is not child’s play. A serious driver should therefore look for sponsors to fund their dream of being successful in the Safari adventure. This is what Kenyan paraplegic driver Nikhil Sachania has done ahead of the Safari Rally. The former Kenya Motorsports Personality of the Year winner secured a lucrative deal with KCB Bank, which will cater for his logistics in the championships. Kenyan National Rally Championships (KNRC) driver Evans Kavisi, 34, also secured a deal with the bankers.

  1. Competent crew

Any competitor eager to post impressive results in the leg must have an able team on the ground. It is the mechanics who come in handy when it matters most. A mobile garage helps them change wheels and other parts of the vehicle with much ease. It is from the squad that a driver and his navigator come up with clear and winning pace notes. “The international drivers coming to Kenya will give us the full picture of where the sport is headed in the coming years because their crew make use of technology more than us. Even if I don’t win anything in the Safari Rally, I will be glad to know the international drivers’ approach to rallying,” said driver Kavisi.

Driver Evans Kavisi and Navigators Absalom Aswani (left) during the unveiling and sponsorship of two Kenya drivers ahead of the 20222 WRC Safari Rally. June 3, 2022. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]
  1. Adherence to FIA standards

Drivers must keep on updating themselves with the new rules that are crafted by the world motorsport governing body. Last season, several local drivers were knocked out of the Safari Rally at the scrutineering stage for failing to upgrade their machines to the required FIA standards. Most did not have FIA approved fuel tanks and the computerised navigation systems mounted in their vehicles. The axe saw 13 drivers dropped just a day to the start of the championships. At the same time, three more local drivers were relegated to the lower KNRC Group 4 tier.

  1. A healthy relationship with the navigator

Sincere bonding between a driver and navigator is key to winning a Safari Rally contest. Both Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier, who boast nine and eight WRC Championships records respectively, have had their co-drivers for years. This has given them enough time to bond and know each other well, thereby translating into streaks of victories. “For us to do better, we have to rely greatly on each other. If we don’t trust each other, we can’t compete at a higher level,” said Kenyan driver Rio Smith.

  1. Going for test drives

Any top contender for the WRC must have several practices ahead of the rally. Smith, for example, has carried out his exercises in Ngong Hills, Athi River and in the new tracks around Naivasha where the Safari Rally will be held. Kavisi, who will be navigated by his long term partner Absalom Aswani, has already done five of such test drives in the rough sections of Athi River. KNRC driver Hussein Malik also heads to Lukenya every month for similar tests in his Mitsubishi Evolution 10 machine. “Testing the car before the championships is mandatory. It helps a contestant know the areas to fix before the rally,” said Kavisi.

Tyre rims of rally cars at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Training Institute Servicepark on June 20, 2022 ahead of WRC Safari Rally Kenya sheduled in Naivasha from June 23 - 26, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]
  1. Recce is a must-attend event

Unlike the East African Safari Classic Rally, the WRC map can be accessed by competitors even before the rally. The contestants can have prior knowledge of the route whether its gravel, asphalt or tarmac. Due to the availability of technology, drivers are now in a position to dig up most of the information ahead of the competition. Knowledge of the stages is also an added advantage as it gives participants an edge over their competition. On Monday, all drivers took part in the recce ahead of the Safari Rally.

  1. Fitness is key to rally drivers

In order to be a top contender for the Safari Rally title, kindly be fit. Gym sessions and physical workouts are a must. Look at all championships winning drivers, they have one thing in common; they look lean and fit. Last season, Malik hit the gym to stay healthy ahead of the return of Safari Rally Kenya after a 19-year hiatus. The 41-year-old father of two engaged in motorsport related exercises such as focus, balance, endurance and concentration in the gym, which helped him shed off over 40kgs. “Rallying is about adrenaline rush. If you are not fit, you get tired quickly and lose concentration. This makes one very slow on the wheel,” said Malik. Likewise, Smith also embarked on his fitness journey ahead of this year’s Safari Rally.

Wheels of rally cars at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Training Institute Servicepark on June 20, 2022 ahead of WRC Safari Rally Kenya sheduled in Naivasha from June 23 - 26, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard
  1. Proper planning does the trick

If you fail to plan, then you have planned to fail. Due to the high standards in the Safari Rally, any serious driver must plan his journey well and meticulously so. “During the East African classic rally, we saw that preparations and planning accounts for about 80 per cent of the whole process, while competing is just equivalent to about 20 per cent.

  1. Watch what you eat and drink

Some participants take their diet seriously while preparing for the Safari odyssey. Currently, Smith has dropped all junk foods he was consuming and only eats boiled chicken and vegetables.

  1. A great leap of faith

To some drivers, rallying is akin to toying around with death due to the high speed involved. Therefore, some contestants have strengthened their faith just to help them sail through the adrenaline-filled journey. Ahead of his WRC debut last year, Smith developed a ritual, which he will be repeating in this year’s Safari Rally. He’s praying more, double checks the car to ensure all parts are intact.