Safari Rally vrooms off in 'Vasha' with its magical moments

M-Sport Ford's Ott Tanak in action during the opening Kasarani Super Special Stage of the 2023 WRC Safari Rally in Nairobi on June 22, 2023. [WRC]

The 2023 World Rally Championship (WRC) seventh leg, the Safari Rally, is ongoing in Naivasha. So far the global showpiece has realised a few magical moments of history worth noting.

Below, Standard Sports takes a look at these special occasions that are making this year's competition to be more incredible.

  1. Tanak v Kipchoge

For the first time, rally met the marathon when former world rally champion Ott Tanak took a chartered flight to Eldoret to visit world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge.

The Estonian star also interacted with double world record holder Faith Kipyegon (women's 1500 and 5000m) and triple World Half Marathon champion Geofrey Kamworor at the athletics camp in Kaptagat.

During the visit, the M-Sport Ford driver drew inspiration to win the rally from Kipchoge, and this motivation was seen on Thursday when he clocked 3:14.3 to win the opening Kasarani Super Special Stage in Nairobi.

Tanak, who was accompanied by Kenyan rally legend Carl Tundo to Eldoret, enjoyed a jog with Kipchoge at the Kaptagat camp where he was also imparted with knowledge on marathon running.

Tanak also planted trees with M-Ford Sport team mate Pierre-Louis Loubet to support sustainable actions on climate change.

"Rallying needs concentration, and great calculations in the corners. The car has to be in great shape to propel you to victory," the Estonian told Kipchoge.

Kipchoge too was thrilled to meet the rally star, exchanging souvenirs with Tanak.

"Meeting Tanak means a lot to me. From our discussion, I have realised both our sports need a big team on the background in order to succeed," Kipchoge said.

Kipchoge gave Tanak a signed pair of marathon shoes while Tanak gave him his official racing helmet.

Kalle Rovanpera in action on the second day of the Safari Rally in Naivasha on June 23, 2023. [WRC]

  1. Omanyala v Rovanpera

World Rally champion Kalle Rovanpera met Africa's fastest man Ferdinand Omanyala ahead of the seventh leg of the series that revved off in Naivasha on Wednesday.

The two had a chance to do a promotional video, in the Toyota campaign dubbed Man v Machine, that is currently breaking the internet.

The high end ad, done in Athi River sees the Commonwealth Games champion lines up against the Toyota Gazoo Racing champion who is also defending his Safari Rally title at the ongoing contest in Naivasha.

The two stared at each other pensively before speeding off in their tracks, the contest ended in a 'photo finish.'

"It was a close finish, it was fast, I can race the machine," Omanyala said after the race.

"Thank you very much," Rovanpera replied. "All the best in the rally," Omanyala said.

President William Ruto in the co-driver's seat of Pierre-Louis Loubet's M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid for a high-speed run through shakedown in Naivasha on Wednesday June 21, 2023. [WRC],

  1. Ruto's hair-raising experience in a rally car

President William Ruto arguably became the first Kenyan head of state to enjoy a ride in a rally car.

The President had a hair raising experience in the shakedown in Loldia on Wednesday which was won by Rovanpera.

Strapped into the co-driver's seat of Pierre-Louis Loubet's M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid car, Ruto was immersed in a high-speed run through the nostlagic shakedown.

Ruto, who will return to the event tomorrow to celebrate with the winners at Hell's Gate, was taken aback by the adrenaline filled experience.

"I don't know what to say, that thing is crazy!" he beamed, gesturing towards Loubet's Puma. "Absolute madness - but it is an experience you cannot forget. The sheer speed, you can hardly see the road, you can hardly see the bend. These guys are really professional, it's a life-changing adventure," the President said.

"It is not just about the rally car, it is not just about the drivers, it is not just about the support teams - this rally is a whole of Kenya event. The carnival, the excitement, the celebration - it is just that captivating.

"Millions of Kenyans are engrossed in this. We will have great difficulty to keep everybody at work! Those who have reasons will look for those reasons, those who don't have reasons will look for excuses. I will be working, unfortunately for me," he joked.

  1. Unpredictable weather conditions in Naivasha.

The weather in Naivasha is so unpredictable at the moment. You find its raining cats and dogs in one section of the rally route, and it's as dry on the other end.

Tundo is one of the few drivers in the championship who are praying for rains.

"I do well in wet weather, I have the capacity to give the top drivers a run for their money if it rains continuously," the Kenyan legend stated.

President William Ruto took a ride in Pierre-Louis Loubet's M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid for a high-speed run through shakedown in Naivasha on Wednesday June 21, 2023. [WRC]

  1. The return of legend Juha Kankkunen spices up the rally

Four times world rally champion Juha Kankkunen is in the country to watch the Safari Rally.

The legend did exhibition drives at the Kasarani Super Special Stage before the opening round of the Safari Rally on Thursday.

His return to the country is of much significant in that he led Toyota to 1-2-3-4 finish in the 1993 Safari Rally, with him emerging overall champion of the edition.

Toyota made a similar repeat at the event last year, with Rovanpera, Elfyn Evans, Takamoto Katsuta and Sebastien Ogier sweeping the podium in that order.

6.Notorious fesh fesh in Kedong

Drivers yesterday battled the punishing fesh fesh filled 30.62km Kedong stage. Fesh fesh is a soft volcanic ash that is always difficult to wade through.

It is always a driver's worst enemy in the cutthroat competition as they cannot tell how deep it is or what's hidden underneath the volcanic ash.

Last year, nine time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was returning to the Safari after a 20-year hiatus, was the causality, after fesh fesh in Kedong smoked out his dream of winning the Kenyan leg.

Actually, it is always on this stretch that the Safari Rally title is arguably decided.

Fesh fesh, the flora and fauna within the conservancies and the Kenya's panoramic landscapes are some of the factors that makes Safari Rally the toughest, exciting and thrilling leg of the 13 legged global series.

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