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SPORTS

Former champion Ott Tanak to lead Hyundai attack in WRC Safari Rally

UNIQUE SPORTS By Ochieng Oyugi | May 16th 2021
Estonian rally driver Ott Tänak and his copilot, Martin Järveoja, on 6 September, 2020 won the inaugural full-calendar WRC event, Rally Estonia, held in the southern parts of the country. [Photo: Courtesy]

The World Rally Championship (WRC) 2019 winner Ott Tanak of Estonia will lead Hyundai Motorsport team at the forthcoming Safari Rally to be staged in Naivasha on June 24-27.

This follows an announcement by the vehicle manufacturer about their entry into the Safari Rally that makes a return to Kenya after 19 years.

"We are happy to announce our line-up for the Safari Rally. This is a brand-new challenge for the teams and crews," stated Hyundai Motorsport in a tweet.

Other drivers to don Hyundai outfit in the rally are Belgian Thierry Neuville who will team up with Marjin Wydaeghe and Dani Sordo of Spain to be navigated by Borja Rozada.

Tanak is already buoyed with victory in the second leg of the 2021 WRC held in Finland (Arctic Rally) on February 26.

He will, however, battle it out in the unforgiving terrains of Naivasha with WRC reigning champion Sebastian Ogier, who has already won two circuits of the 2021 championship, the Rallye Monte-Carlo and the Croatia Rally.

While foraging for glory at Rift Valley, the focused speedster's pace notes will be called out by compatriot Martin Jarveoja in their first attempt to conquer Africa.

Tanak and Jarveoja have already made their intentions known after joining the star-studded Hyundai mix last year.

Martin Järveoja (left) and Ott Tänak, after winning Rally Estonia. [Photo: Courtesy]

They enjoyed a successful season, achieving four podium finishes in seven races, including victory at their home event, Rally Estonia.

"My pre-stage ritual is to make sure I have done all the things that are up to me so that the result is as good as possible," Jarveoja said on the Hyundai website.

Hyundai has become the first vehicle manufacturer to announce their lineup for the Safari Rally.

The manufacturer made its return to the WRC competition in 2014 with an all-new team and an ambitious long-term plan.

The Korean firm competed in the F2 category between 1998 and 2000, before switching to a World Rally Car version of its Accent saloon until 2003.

Hyundai’s return was heralded by the unveiling of a prototype i20 World Rally Car at the Paris Motor Show in September 2012.

Things moved quickly three months later with the establishment of a new motorsport base in Germany.

Former Peugeot WRC technical head Michel Nandan was brought in to oversee the task of creating a fully operational team, a rally-specification i20 and developing a brand new motorsport facility - all from scratch and in 12 months.

At the wheel throughout 2014 was the previous year’s championship runner-up, Neuville. Hyundai was clear from the onset that the season would be a development year, but it showed plenty of promise and Neuville led a surprise 1-2 result in Germany.

The team’s breakthrough came in 2016 when Neuville firstly put the i20 on the podium at Rallye Monte-Carlo and then Hayden Paddon’s dominant maiden victory in Argentina made people sit up and take note.

Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville. [Photo: Courtesy]

Neuville matched the performance in two rallies later in Sardinia and after two victories and 12 podiums, Hyundai secured second in the championship.

There was a common theme to 2017 and 2018. Neuville and Hyundai led both championships before fading away in the second half of the season and having to settle for more runners-up finishes.

The squad rang the changes for 2019. Andrea Adamo took over as team principal and nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb joined Neuville, Andreas Mikkelsen and Sordo at the wheel.

A steely strategic approach was rewarded with its first manufacturers’ title.

Newly-crowned world champion Tänak made a shock switch to the Korean squad for 2020 and Hyundai squeezed home at the final round to secure back-to-back successes.

Tänak and Neuville to lead the 2021 attack with Dani Sordo on toe.

QUOTE

"Our hard work has seen us improve every year and resulted in two titles for the team," Thierry Neuville, Hyundai Motorsport.

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