Ogier in search of title defence as Tundo, Karan lead local charges

Safari Rally defending champion Sebastein Ogier. [Stafford Ondego, Standard].jpg

This is the day people. The Safari Rally has arrived. The engrossing race will be flagged off today morning by President Uhuru Kenyatta at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, in Nairobi.

The cars will then proceed to the 4.84km Kasarani Super Special Stage for the opening round.

Leg defending champion Sebastein Ogier of Toyota Gazoo Racing is excited to be back as he seeks to defend his title he won by a whisker last season after a rat-race chase by his teammate Takamoto Katsuta and Thierry Neuville of Hyundai.

“I hope to defend it. I’m here to defend the win again,” the eight-time WRC champion told Standard Sports.

“But we all know that Safari is the most unpredictable rally on earth. It has very difficult conditions for the cars and the roads are really rough,” Ogier said.

Also in the mix for top honours is nine-time champion, Sebastien Loeb, who is returning to Kenya in search of glory after 20 years.

Dubbed the ‘Battle of the Sebs’, this rivalry is expected to keep tongues wagging and push the Safari Rally viewership from 800 million last year to a billion this season.

Series leader, 21-year-old Kalle Rovanpera, also of Toyota, says he is confident to stretch his 120 points lead in the Safari Rally.

But the Finn has no pressure because no matter the position he’ll finish in, he will still head for round seven in Estonia top of the charts.

“From the recce we did on Tuesday, my prediction is that the Safari rally will be very tough. The stages will be tougher than last season,” said Rovanpera, who crashed out of the championship last season.

Elfyn Evans, who also crashed out last season after leading in all but two stages, said he will try and find a balance between looking after the car and driving well on the roughs.

A fan yesterday at Safari Rally, in Naivasha. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Katsuta admitted he’s nervous because some sections of the route are giving him goosebumps because of their roughness.

Ott Tanak of Hyundai, who triumphed in Rally Italy early in the month, has opted to be careful on the route saying: “This is an endurance rally, it will be so demanding for the car. You blink once and you are out of the show.” Neuville says he still feels quite unfamiliar with the course despite conquering all but two stages before his heartbreaking crash out last season.

Locally, African Rally Champion Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo and Kenya National Rally Championship leader Karan Patel will head the battle for Kenyan drivers in the series.

Other local speedsters in the Safari Rally duel include FIA Star Program drivers Maxine Wahome, Jeremy Wahome, McRae Kimathi and Hamza Anwar.