Targeting a slot back onto the prestigious World Rally Championship roster, the Safari Rally rolls off Friday with action in the three-day competition centred around Naivasha.
There was pre-race drama on Thursday when Kenya’s Jaspreet Chatthe, navigated by Briton James Morgan, initially pencilled as first off the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, saw his Mitsubishi Evo 10 car fail to pass the “homologation” test, meaning that he will now start third.
Nakuru-based Onkar Rai, navigated by Gareth Dawe, winners of the Nakuru round of the 2017 Kenya National Rally Championship, will now be first off the ramp in a Skoda Fabia R5, followed by Manvir Baryan co-driven by Drew Sturrock in another Skoda.
In the rally, homologation basically means technical compliance of the competing cars to rallying conditions as set by the organisers.
This weekend’s rally, that ends on Sunday, will be monitored keenly by officials from the world motorsport governing body, the International Automobile Federation (FIA), as it seeks to reclaim World Rally Championship (WRC) status.
Over three days, the Safari will cover a total competitive distance of 200.16 kilometres.
But due to weather changes and safety measures the Aberdare Hills (12.55km) stages one and nine have been replaced, leaving Soysambu (18.75km), Sleeping Warrior (25.00km), Elmentaita (28.03km) and Kedong (31.50km), some repeated, to make up the competitive sections.
Gilles Simon, the FIA head of technical matters and Olivier Ciesla, the WRC Promoter managing director, are in Kenya for the event.
It will heavily depend on the two men whether Safari organisers, the government and people of Kenya meet the standards to be relied upon to deliver a world class motor rally.
Simon acts as the FIA’s technical director for developing FIA championships and oversees technical solutions, strategy and sporting vision for the organizations.
He works in close cooperation with the FIA departments responsible for the global management of motor championships, as well as with the safety department.
Ciesla advises the FIA on viability of events round the world and promotes the WRC.
This year’s Safari, the 66th edition, sees 36 car entries some of which are from Uganda and Tanzania chasing points towards the African Rally Champion of which the Safari is a key event.
Top Kenyan drivers Onkar Rai, Jaspreet Chatthe, Baldev Chager, Manvir Bryan, Carl Tundo, Karan Patel and Jasmeet Chana are joined by Uganda ace Jas Mangat as the main contestants for top five finishes on Sunday.