Back After 19 Years, the Classic Safari Rally Still Rocks!

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Article by: Peter Gatuna

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[bctt tweet="After that 19-year long drought, the Sarafi Rally Kenya event did not disappoint. In the race tracks, the drivers represented themselves superbly." username="QaziniKenya"]

The 3-day WRC Safari Rally Kenya spectacular in Naivasha last weekend was the perfect way to cap off the month of June. There is just something about fast cars raising a heck of a lot of dust that makes you catch your breath. Add to that the obsession we can’t shake off of a powerful engine revving noisily and the love we all have for all of our favourite racers, and you have yourself a pretty exciting Naivo weekend.

As for me, I discovered that the 13th leg of the New Safari Rally Kenya was taking place just a few kilometres from our home by chance. But I did not hesitate to jump into the first matatu I saw to join a caravan of power machines streaming to the venue.

Spectacular excitement

We’ve been reminiscing about the good old Safari Rally all week. Before it was discontinued in 2002, the grueling East African Safari Rally route used to pass by my small home village of Kuresoi. A driver no one remembers anymore crashed his car close by, and that spot was marked as a black spot haunted by djinns or something. The stories lasted for years!

It was quite something for the Safari Rally to come back this year, 19 years later.  The anticipation was fever high, even among the locals I encountered along the way to the venue. Neither the sun beating high above, nor the cloud of dust from the never-ending caravan of muscle cars driving by could douse the hubbub of excitement in the air.

Even before the main Safari Rally event had started, a number of exciting exhibition races kept the route well-marked by a column of dust visible from afar.

The race-cars

From the onset, it is clear that the Safari Rally Kenya organizers pulled every stop to bring us an unforgettable experience. But a scarcity of prior information means that most people (yours truly included) don’t really understand the staging, routes, or point system.

Who cares anyways? Fast cars driving past is a good enough reason to take a weekend outdoors, as an eloquent gentleman I happened to share a viewing nest so succinctly put it. High above, several choppers are on the lookout, taking off, hovering, banking, and landing once every often, following cars, patrolling the grounds, and maintaining the general order.

In this new iteration of the Safari Rally Kenya, safety measures were prioritized. The choppers came in very handy when Tajveer Raj had rolled and crashed on Friday, ensuring that professional help arrived early. Invisible to the fans but all the more important, all cars were auto-fitted with roll cages to keep drivers safe in the event of an accident.

Special mentions

From the onset, it was clear that the Safari Rally Kenya was a battle with clear over-dogs and under-dogs. The more experienced drivers and their cars tended to do better in general, and that played out in the final standings. But in general, the success of the entire event was only made possible by the generous contributions of sponsors.

Shell was very prominent all through the event, with several cars spotting the distinctive black Shell livery, all of which appeared to do quite well.

Safaricom has supported the Safari Rally Kenya event by sponsoring young drivers to receive FIA racing mentorship. Or, in other words, taking the long game to winning in the safari rally. Way to go, Safaricom!

Kenya Airways and KCB Bank were also carried in racecars, with the latter being particularly adept in its financial support for the entire racing fraternity.

Special drivers and their cars

The Safari Rally Kenya event attracted a number of unique racers. Among them was 91 year-old Sobieslaw Zasada, three-time European Rally Championship winner who hasn’t raced since 1997.

Another special car was the all-female race team which aroused a lot of excitement from portions of the spectators. They have benefited greatly from efforts by Betika to support upcoming drivers.

Spectator security

Unlike many major rally organizers, the Safari Rally Kenya event did a very good job of maintaining their tracks and keeping them safe for both drivers and spectators. That distinction is especially important considering that the nuisance of rowdy spectators is tossed around as the original reason for stopping the classic in 2002.

This time around, KYS troops, event security, and the police are all here, manning the race tracks and surrounding zones and maintaining a respectable amount of order.

The winners

In the end, the best Kenyan drivers filled the 7 - 9 spots, as the ferocious Toyota Yaris swept the pole with a 1-2 finish. It also dominated the rank and file racing spots, filling a respectable 4 of the first ten positions.

After that 19-year long drought, the Sarafi Rally Kenya event did not disappoint. In the race tracks, the drivers represented themselves superbly. It was a jolly good time for everyone, from the fans who enjoyed a weekend of merrymaking, to businesspeople who made a killing from the increased traffic.

The president's announcement that the country has signed a deal to extend the event up to 2026 was greeted with  applause online. Excited fans were glad to have the promise of another extravaganza for the next five years, with the obvious possibility of further extension.