There's no time for breaking as rally drivers seek top speed in 2023

Graig Breen from Ireland cruises through the Loldia Shakedown stage, in Naivasha. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

With the 2023 World Rally Championship calendar already decided, local drivers are burning the midnight oil, just to have their machines ready for action.

They have already outlined ways of how they intend to fine-tune their race contraptions in the run up to 2023 WRC Safari Rally Kenya, which is slated for June 22-25.

Nairobi-based Skoda Fabia Rally2 ace and 2021 Kenya Motorsport Personality of the Year Aakif Virani is leaving nothing to chance as he braces up for his third career WRC Safari Rally.

"Our preparations are well underway. Actually, the car was rebuilt after the 2022 WRC Safari and was in store ready for 2023. We had some expenses but nothing major," said Virani.

"Our plan will be to start the 2023 KNRC season and do as many events as possible- work allowing as well as personal and family time."

Neuville Thierry battles in Elementaita during the third day of World Rally Championship Safari Rally Kenya on June 25, 2022. [WRC]

Kenya National Rally Championship first runner-up Jasmeet and Ravi Chana have plans to upgrade from their longtime Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X machine to a state-of-the-art Rally2 in order to approach the 2023 Safari and KNRC campaigns a lot more competitively.

"The Evolution X has done what it was intended to; although we didn't achieve the main national championship's (KNRC) goal despite leading the series in its latter stages. But all in all, we have plans to upgrade to a newer machine- God willing- if sponsorship comes through," said Chana.

Speedster Karan Patel in his Ford Fiesta Rally2 will for the umpteenth time run another busy season which will entail his spirited KNRC title defence, the WRC Safari, where he finished in top 10, as well as the elusive FIA African Rally Championship (ARC) title, which he lost to Zambian Leroy Gomes on homestretch in Lusaka.

Internationally, it's no longer business as usual given that the season- opener in Monte Carlo is around the corner.

M-Sport Ford will field a two-car WRC2 team in 2023 with former top-level driver Adrien Fourmaux being joined by Gregoire Munster in a pair of identical Fiesta cars. Fourmaux finds himself back in WRC's premier support category having endured a luckless 2022 season at the helm of a Puma Rally1.

Esapekka Lappi will drive for Hyundai Motorsport World Rally Tram as will Craig Breen - who returns to the squad on a part-time basis.

Lappi has shared a Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Yaris with Sebastien Ogier this season but is switching sides to contest a full-time programme in an i20 N next year.

The Finn also previously drove for M-Sport Ford - meaning he will now have competed in cars from all three of the FIA WRC leading manufacturers.

Pierre-Louis Loubet will drive an M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid on all 13 rounds of next year's WRC.

Having impressed M-Sport with a brace of top-four finishes plus a handful of stage wins on selected outings in 2022, the British squad has rewarded Loubet with a full-time campaign aboard one of its top-level Pumas next season.

The Frenchman becomes the second driver to be named in M-Sport's line-up after it was confirmed that Ott Tanak will lead the team in 2023.

Joining Loubet inside the car is new co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, who previously guided Hyundai star Thierry Neuville to 13 WRC rally wins and 43 podiums.

Takamoto Katsuta has been promoted to Toyota Gazoo Racing's otherwise unchanged main line-up for the 2023 season.

Katsuta was taken under the wing of Toyota's WRC Challenge Program for young drivers in 2015 and made his top-flight debut in Germany four years later.

It remains to be confirmed which Toyota driver will contest each round - although Sebastien Ogier is likely to take up the reins for the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo (January 19-22), an event he has won eight times.

Elfyn Evans and new world champion Kalle Rovanpera return to compete for full seasons for the Japanese manufacturer.

The 2023 WRC will feature a round which takes place across three countries when Austria, Czech Republic and Germany host the Central European Rally from October 26-29. The asphalt rally will be based out of the south-east German city of Passau.

Running from January to November, the 2023 calendar will feature a number of regular stops, along with the return of Mexico and Chile for the first time since Covid-19.

Beginning with the traditional season opener in Monte-Carlo from January 19-22, the snow and ice of Sweden (February 9-12) awaits drivers for the second stop as the championship returns to Umea following a successful debut of the new-look winter rally in 2022.

The first long-haul journey of the year takes the championship to Rally Guanajuato Mexico from March 16-19 before a return to Europe for the first all-asphalt event of the year, Croatia Rally, from April 20-23.

The Croatian fixture now enters its third edition and will once again be based out of the country's capital Zagreb.

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