Kenya’s Safari Rally set for WRC return

Kenya’s Safari Rally has moved a step closer to returning to the World Rally Championship calendar after being confirmed as a candidate event for the motorsport series in 2019.

WRC Promoter, the Championship’s commercial arm, has reached an agreement to reinstate the event fully in 2020, should next year’s test event run smoothly. The agreement was signed between WRC Promoter, the Kenyan government’s sports ministry and the International Automobile Federation (FIA), which sanctions the WRC.

The Safari Rally last formed part of the WRC in 2002. Next year’s candidate event will operate under observation from the FIA and WRC Promoter. Subject to the event achieving high-level standards in areas such as safety and organisation, the Rally will be awarded a three-year contract to form part of the WRC calendar from 2020 to 2022.

WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla said: “This agreement reflects our determination to restore a legendary rally to the championship and reinstate Africa to the top table of world rallying after an absence of more than a decade.”

He added: “It has long been a key part of the calendar development strategy to take the WRC back to Africa and fulfil the dreams of our fans to restore this mythical event. A truly global championship requires a presence in the world’s second largest continent and the Kenyan government has made a huge commitment to re-establish the Safari to its former glory.

“This is a modern-era Safari. Traditional open-road competitive sections have been replaced by smoother special stages in private estates and conservancies and a comprehensive safety plan is in place to support a rally organised to the current WRC format.

“That doesn’t mean the challenge is diminished. The gravel roads are demanding and we can also look forward to striking images of African wildlife and stunning landscapes.”

The candidate event is expected to be held in March or April next year, with the dates to be finalised once the 2019 WRC calendar has been confirmed.

The 2018 Safari Rally was held in Nairobi and formed a round of the African and Kenyan rally championships. The Kenyan government has pledged a significant budget towards the rally, with President Uhuru Kenyatta supporting the race as part of the country’s strategy to promote tourism, culture and heritage.

Kirimi Peter Kaberia, the principal secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Sports and Heritage, said: “Our government is very committed to the Safari Rally and we’ll do everything in our power to make sure this great event is brought back to the WRC.

“This signing is a major milestone and a day we have looked forward to for a very long time. Arriving at this point is a great pleasure. There remains a lot of work to be done and we will collaborate closely with all parties ahead of next year’s candidate rally to show that Kenya is ready and capable to deliver what is expected.”

The Safari Rally was first held in 1953. It was regarded as one of the WRC’s toughest races and is one of the most famous motorsport events in the world.