Speed, fun and drink as Safari Rally action takes over 'Vasha'

Kalle Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen splash water at the Kasarani Special Super Stage during the 2024 WRC Safari Rally Kenya edition on March 28, 2024. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The WRC Safari Rally fever-pitch has kicked off in the lakeside town of Naivasha with gusto.

The town is bustling with immense energy as fans, spectators and rally enthusiasts descend in the area for a good time at the weekend.

Business is booming with boda boda riders and eateries making a kill from the visiting revellers. Hotels are fully booked, with some doubling their normal prices. Visitors are being forced to seek accommodation elsewhere, in faraway places like Nakuru and Gilgil.

Entertainment joints have hiked their prices, especially those along the famous Moi South Lake Road, but this is not deterring party-goers from whiling the night away with bushy tables.

A preview of what the weekend is likely to be was witnessed on Wednesday at the shakedown in Loldia Ranch, at Ndulele Conservancy, where fans thronged the venue as early as 8am for a glimpse of the battling machines.

The spectators witnessed a tantalising preview of the adrenaline-filled rally action as drivers tackled the challenging 5.4km shakedown, setting the stage for what promises to be a thrilling weekend of motorsport.

Fans from near and far expressed their excitement ahead of the competition. 

Seth Nyabere, a Kenyan residing in Australia, travelled specifically for the rally. He said: "I came with some of my friends whom I invited to come home and witness this annual event. The experience so far has been fantastic. With the rain starting, the weather looks promising, and I'm here to support my favourite team. I'm excited to see what the rest of the weekend has in store."

Isaac Keith, president of the Uganda Fans Association, shared his enthusiasm, saying: "We are here for the WRC Safari Rally for the fourth year running, and each year brings a new experience. Spectator numbers continue to grow, and the atmosphere is electric. We're proud to support motorsport, and I'm personally cheering for Team Toyota and the Kenyan drivers."

Even Kenya 7s star Patrick Odongo couldn't contain his excitement after participating in the shakedown. "It was one of the best experiences I've had. I've never had such a great experience like this one today. The road was rough, and my heart almost scared out of my rib cage, but it was a good experience. I really love the way these guys are dedicated to their work. Though it seems and looks dangerous, they're really dedicated, and they love it," said Odongo.

A cocktail of activities is ongoing at the busy service park which is the nerve centre of the rally.

Here, mechanics working for the three giant constructors are dripping in sweat, their overalls socked in oil, power generators roaring endlessly, tyres bursting here and there due to pressure, creaking noises by welding machines, tool boxes falling with a thud, giant cranes lifting and lowering materials, it's just a whole hustle and bustle in this zone.

In one corner, the Toyota Gazoo Racing top mechanics and engineers are either dismantling or assembling their GR Yaris Rally1 hybrid racing machines.

In another corner, you can spot their rivals Hyundai Motorsport panel beating their i20 N Rally1 cars to shape. M-Sport Ford are also not left in this amazing assembling and dismantling spree.

The constructors have the best hospitality tents to welcome visitors and invited guests. The tents have other amenities like floodlights, mobile garages, refreshment stores, washrooms, fuel supply, cranes, tractors, gas cylinders, fire extinguishers among others to help their crews work round the clock.

Sebastien Loeb from France navigated by Isabelle Galmiche driving Puma cruises through Kasarani Special spectators stage during WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2022 in Nairobi on Thursday 28, 2024. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The Service Park pavilion has a VIP lounge where top government officials attending the rally, are welcomed and hosted.

Additionally, security is tight at the venue and areas around Naivasha town. This is to provide safety to participants and fans.

The rally has an amazing production crew, working on land and air to ensure their live coverage reaches over 500 million viewers across the globe.

Local scribes are also not left out as they have an amazing state-of-the-art media centre to relay their information.

For sustainability, environmental-conscious groups are also working round the clock to ensure the rally routes and locations involved are well preserved and devoid of any litter.

As the WRC Safari Rally officially revved off into action at the KICC on Thursday, fans around the world should expect a spectacle of high-speed racing amid Kenya's stunning landscapes. With the enthusiasm of both drivers and spectators alike, we can confidently say the stage is set for a weekend of unforgettable motorsport action.

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