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SPORTS

Rally: Kenya rally heads excited as new WRC season launched, set to rev-off on Thursday

MOTORSPORT By Ochieng Oyugi | January 17th 2022 | 4 min read
Team Toyota poses for a photograph during the WRC launch at hangar 7 Salzburg , Austria Jan 15th 2022 [Red Bull Kenya]

Kenyan rally enthusiasts are already excited ahead of the new World Rally Championships (WRC) season that kicks off on Thursday with Rallye Monte-Carlo in Monaco.

Kenya is set to host the sixth leg of the global series on June 23-26 in Naivasha, with the intent to surpass the 850 million viewership recorded last season.

A section of local rally heads thronged various entertainment joints at the weekend to witness the live epic launch from Red Bull’s Hangar-7 in Salzburg, Austria, where the new hybrid era cars were unveiled.

Kenyan audiences were dazzled with the super-cars that have been lined up by the top three manufactures that includes reigning champions Toyota Gazoo Racing, Hyundai Motorsport and M-Sport Ford.

The constructors revealed their stunning all-new cars which will compete across 13 rounds on four continents including the much followed Safari Rally Kenya.

Toyota will ply trade in a GR Yaris Rally 1 car which is a great improvement from their version last season.

Behind the wheel for Toyota will be the 2021 championship runner-up Elfyn Evans and team-mates Takamoto Katsuta, and Kalle Rovanperä - who became the youngest WRC rally winner in history last season.

M-Sport Ford has new signing Craig Breen and the team’s hotly-tipped youngster, Adrien Fourmaux who will battle in a hybrid Puma Rally 1 car.

Hyundai, arguably with the strongest competing speedster that includes lead drivers Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak, will comb the asphalt, ice and gravel terrains in an i20 N Rally 1 car.

"Look at these glittering machines, will Kenya ever wrestle the big boys in this game?" Farida Limo, an ardent motorsport fan who followed the live proceedings in Nairobi on Saturday night, posed.

The plug-in hybrid-powered cars are built around an upgraded safety cell chassis, 100 percent fossil-free fuel and sustainable energy supplies that are key to the sport’s commitment to a greener future.

In order to be at par with the big boys, Kenya National Rally Championships driver Eric Bengi has suggested that the government should take over Kenya's preparations for the WRC.

Bengi says the series is quite expensive to handle as a solo driver starting with the expensive vehicles that goes for at least Ksh 100 million for a single car.

"Local drivers needs very good cars, they need competent training to help them up their game in this sport. We need better support from the government. In the last WRC season in Naivasha we as drivers had zero support directly from the state," Bengi says.

"I'm suggesting that the government should set a side a Kenyan team, even if only five drivers, equip them well, train them properly, then set them to battle in the WRC. I'm confident they will perform well. I believe they will give the international drivers a run for their money."

Steven Maikweki, Sports Marketing Manager, Red Bull Kenya believes the new WRC season is going to upset the WRC status quo.

"Now that the world champion Sebastien Ogier and former winner Sebastien Loeb, who is making a comeback from retirement, will be competing part-time, I'm projecting that we are going to have a new champion in the series this year," Maikweki said.

Ahead of the new season, Kenya has already set up an office in Europe, in Lahti Finland to capitalise on the great history and rich heritage of the Safari Rally.

The new Safari Rally office in Europe will help market the country as a sports tourist destination.

"By incorporating ‘Visit Kenya’ as part of the Safari coffee project, as the Kenyan coffee sells in the Europe rallies, so do our tourist numbers increase," said Sports CS Amina Mohamed.

"The Safari Rally was the most followed WRC event in 2021 which was a major milestone. "What's more, the Safari Greening Project in which Kenya hopes to plant 18million trees in three years across the country is already a major success," Mohamed said when she graced Kenya's Motorsport Awards at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi on Saturday night.

The new WRC season will be quite different in that it is starting off with a new FIA president Mohammed bin Sulayem who has pledged to take the sport to the next level.

The championship will also be celebrating its 50th anniversary, with the WRC set to undergo major environmental changes as new FIA technical regulations drive the series towards a more sustainable future.

“Besides the hybrid technology adding a new dynamic layer of performance combined with safety improvements, Rally1 cars will be using 100 percent sustainable fuel and work is also ongoing to achieve greater sustainability in the organization of each round of the series."FIA president Mohammed bin Sulayem.

The WRC 2022 calendar:

Monte Carlo Rally (January 20-23)

Rally Sweden (February 24-27)

Croatia Rally (April 21-24)

Rally Portugal (May 19-22)

Rally Italy (June 2-5)

Safari Rally Kenya (June 23-26)

Rally Estonia (July 14-17)

Rally Finland (August 4-7)

TBC (August 18-21)

Acropolis Rally (September 8-11)

Rally New Zealand (September 29-October 2)

Rally Spain (October 20-23)

Rally Japan (November 10-13)

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