Manvir Baryan co-driven by Drew Sturock in a Skoda Fabia will be first off the ramp today at Kasarani in a defining Safari Rally event that will determine whether Kenya regains the most sought-after World Rally Championship status.
If all goes well in this official ‘WRC Candidate Event’, Kenya will be back in the money-spinning motorsport league starting next year.
The Safari Rally WRC Project is one of Kenya’s flagship assignment, which President Uhuru Kenyatta has keenly followed, with the consummate former rally driver and administrator, Phineas Kimathi, pulling the strings at the Paris-based Federation Automobile Association (FIA).
FIA President Jean Todt, who is open to Safari Rally’s return to the WRC calendar, has met President Uhuru on several occasions raising the prospects of one of the world’s exciting motorsport event clinching the coveted status.
“For the last year, we have worked tirelessly to meet all the FIA conditions. I am glad to present a well-planned 2019 Safari Rally,” Kimathi said ahead of today’s shakedown at the newly constructed spectator arena at Kasarani.
And so when Baryan and his co-driver Sturock rev off today at 10 am, leading 51 other crew from seven nationalities, Kenyans will be waiting with bated breath after Sunday to know whether the Candidate Event ticks all the right FIA boxes.
FIA officials, among them two former drivers who wowed Kenyans during the Safari Rally heydays – Michelle Mouton (FIA Safety Delegate) and Alain Ambrosino (WRC Expert), are here to check on Kenya’s preparedness.
And hence all eyes will be on Kimathi and his WRC Project team to ensure everything goes according to plan beginning with the Super Special Stage at Kasarani where two drivers go on a head-to-head competition over a 4.5km loop.
Thereafter the cars will head to the 12km Gatamaiyo Forest stage via Thika Super Highway and pass through Exit 14 onto Kenyatta Road before heading to Sopa Lodge in Naivasha for an overnight stay ready for action proper on Saturday through to Sunday.
Most encouraging for Kenya is the interest already shown by South Korean multinational automotive manufacturer Hyundai and England-based auto racing team M-Sport who have sent officials to Nairobi and Naivasha to access the situation.
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Standard Sports understands Hyundai’s Pablo Marcos and Krzysztof Stolarczyk from the Ford M-sport have been in the country since Wednesday for recce.
“When professional teams show interest in participating, it really gives us encouragement and hope of getting the WRC status. I’m happy with the news,” Kimathi, himself a former rally driver said Tuesday.
Where to catch the action (Entrance Free)
Today: Flag off and Spectator Stage at Kasarani Stadium from 10 am
Thereafter- 12km Gatamaiyo Forest stage via Thika Super Highway and pass through Exit 14 onto Kenyatta Road.
Saturday: Spectator Stage at Soysambu, Naivasha, from 8 am
Sunday: Spectator Stage at Kedong Naivasha from 8 am
Did you know?
Eric Cecil started the Safari Rally together with his cousin Neil Vincent in 1953?
The 1953 Safari Rally was the first sporting event in Africa to be broadcast “live” on radio Eric Cecil from the air in an aircraft piloted by ace aviator Alex Noon through the Forces Broadcasting Services.
East African Standard (Now The Standard Group PLC) was the first commercial sponsor of Safari Rally worth £1000 (Sh129,074.93 today’s exchange rate).