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WRC Rally Kenya

WRC Safari Rally: Everything you need to know

The notorious Safari Rally Kenya, renowned as one of the toughest events in motorsport, marks the halfway point in the 2023 World Rally Championship this weekend.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

The rally has prided itself on being one of the WRC’s jewel in the crown events given its difficulty to win. Its unique stages feature a mix of rough gravel and soft sandy roads sprawled across Kenya’s iconic wildlife-filled savannah. amid changeable weather, poses an altogether different challenge for crews.  

Last year’s Safari winner and reigning world champion, Kalle Rovanpera heads to Kenya with a 25-point lead at the top of the standings after finishing third at rain-affected Rally Sardinia earlier this month. 

His Toyota squad emerged as the team to beat in Africa 12 months ago, after scoring a dominant 1-2-3-4, but the Japanese marque is likely to face stronger opposition this year from the rapidly improving Hyundai and M-Sport-Ford.

Eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier, who won the 2021 Safari, will factor in Toyota’s line-up alongside Elfyn Evans, who sits fourth in the championship and two-time Safari podium finisher Takamoto Katsuta.    

Heavy rain is expected to dominate proceedings in Kenya which could cause problems for the Toyota GR Yaris which struggled to navigate water crossings in Sardinia. 

Hyundai heads to Kenya off the back of its first victory of the season following Thierry Neuville’s triumph in Sardinia, where the Belgian headed a Hyundai 1-2 with Esapekka Lappi in second. This weekend will be Lappi’s first taste of the Safari Rally.  

Hyundai faced several reliability concerns last year but if it can replicate its form in Italy, all three i20 Ns, including veteran Dani Sordo should be in contention for victory.

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

M-Sport-Ford will field three Pumas in Kenya as privateer Jourdan Serderidis rejoins the WRC team for the first time since Rally Mexico in March. 

Ott Tanak is set to lead the Ford team’s charge as he looks to reel in Rovanpera in the championship standings after an electrical fault on his Puma cost him valuable points in Sardinia. 

Team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet has starred in rough rallies previously but this weekend marks his Safari debut.       

What is Safari Rally Kenya?

The Safari Rally was first held in 1953, as the East African Coronation Safari in Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika as a celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

In 1960 it was renamed the East African Safari Rally and kept that name until 1974, when it became the Kenya Safari Rally.

Held on roads still open to the public, it became notorious as the toughest round of the WRC. Arduous conditions and constantly changing weather and more than 5000 competitive kilometres made simply finishing an achievement.

Gus Greensmith, Jonas Andersson, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Gus Greensmith, Jonas Andersson, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

The event adopted a special stage format in 1996 and from then until 2002, it featured over 1000km of timed tests. The rally left the WRC in 2002 and returned in 2021 with a revised shorter format that remains one of the toughest challenges on the calendar.

Unlike other rounds on the calendar, crews are forbidden to test in the local area to prepare for the event.

Safari Rally Kenya winners 

The late Kenyan rally ace Shekhar Mehta and fellow compatriot Carl Tundo are the event’s most successful drivers, having scored five wins apiece.

Mehta scored his first in the Safari Rally’s first event on the WRC calendar in 1973 before taking four more wins from 1979-1982, while countryman Tundo's victories have come from editions held outside of the WRC schedule in 2004, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2018.

During its run as a WRC event from 1973-2002, the 1979 world champion Bjorn Waldegard and four-time world title winner Juha Kankkunen scored four wins.

The Safari Rally was the scene of Colin McRae’s final WRC win in 2002. It was the 1995 world champion’s third Safari Rally triumph, alongside wins for Subaru in 1997 and Ford in 1999 and 2002.

PLUS: Remembering Colin McRae’s last WRC win

World champions Miki Biasion, Tommi Makinen and Richard Burns have all won the rally twice.

Sebastien Ogier, Benjamin Veillas, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Sebastien Ogier, Benjamin Veillas, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Toyota has dominated the rally since it returned to the WRC thanks to victories for Sebastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanpera in 2021 and 2022 respectively. Last year, the marque scored a stunning 1-2-3-4. 

Safari Rally Kenya itinerary 

This year’s edition will be contested over 19 stages, comprising 355.92km across four days of competitive action.

Wednesday 21 June 

Shakedown - begins - 0801 GMT - 1001 local   

Thursday 22 June 

Stage 1 - begins - 1205 GMT - 1405 local 

Friday 23 June - (6 stages - 130.66km)

Stage 2 - Stage 7 - begins 0600 GMT - 0800 local

Saturday 24 June - (6 stages - 150.88km)

Stage 8 - Stage 13 - begins 0705 GMT - 0805 local

Sunday 25 June - (6 stages - 74.038km)

Stage 14 - Stage 19 - Final stage begins 1215 GMT - 1415 local 

Entry List Rally1 (Road Order)

The entry list features 45 crews headlined by 10 Rally1 car entries. 

#69 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1
#8 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team - Puma Rally1
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#17 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais  - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1
#6 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1
#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team - Puma Rally1
#9 Jourdan Serderidis/Andy Malfoy - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team - Puma Rally1

The WRC2 field features 13 entries headlined by Oliver Solberg although the Swede is not competing for championship points. Last year’s WRC2 runner-up Kajetan Kajetanowicz makes his third start of the season after finishing third in Sardinia earlier this month. 

Oliver Solberg, Elliott Edmondson, Skoda Fabia Evo Rally2

Oliver Solberg, Elliott Edmondson, Skoda Fabia Evo Rally2

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster will represent the British squad, while the legendary Kenyan Tundo is likely to be in the fight as he prepares to pilot a Skoda Fabia. 

A total of 22 Kenyans will tackle their home round of the WRC, including WRC3 regular Hamza Anwar. 

How have the Rally1 cars changed for 2023

WRC teams have spent the off-season refining Rally1 machines ahead of a second season under the new hybrid rules.

Reigning champions Toyota have not stood still. The pronounced air boxes that adorned the flanks of the car to cool the hybrid unit have been replaced with a much smoother more aerodynamic design, as it was found the 2022 design overestimated the amount of cooling required for the hybrid unit This has resulted in a re-design of the rear fenders and arches. The rear wing has also been tweaked to compensate for the new aero package.

In addition to the aero changes, Toyota has elected to upgrade its 1.6-litre engine to improve the delivery of power and its torque.

Hyundai has also revealed noticeable changes to its aero on its i20 N. The 2023 car features updated bodywork to the front and rear of the car. The bonnet has been flattened and extended while the front arches have also been modified. The team has also opted for a heavily revised rear wing and wing mirrors.

The new look extended front end has turned the nose of the car into effectively an extra splitter. At the rear, a new rear wing has been designed with last year’s central wing and end plate option transformed into one continuous wing covering the maximum width of the car.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Meanwhile, M-Sport has unveiled a bold new look for its Puma Rally1 with an electric blue and pink livery, replacing its popular purple colours from last season. While the car looks similar to its 2022 model, the team plans to continue its development during the season.   

How does the Rally1 hybrid system work?

Drivers will have the use of hybrid power during every stage, with power boosts activated by the throttle pedal, while further boosts will be unlocked through energy regeneration under braking during stages.

Pilots will be required to regenerate 30 kilojoules of energy before another boost is granted that will be used the next time they touch the throttle pedal.

The extra 130 horsepower is delivered through the use of three bespoke homologated engine maps selected by teams, depending on the type of stage and conditions.

Determined by the FIA and event organisers, drivers will be required to navigate parts of road sections and around event service parks in full electric mode.

In full-electric mode, the car has a range of 20km, while its 3.9KWH battery, operating up to 750 volts, can be plugged in and recharged in the service park within 30 minutes. The hybrid unit can withstand an impact of 70G.

The cars are powered by a 100% sustainable fuel.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Testing reduction and other rule changes 

The sporting regulations have undergone a refresh with arguably the biggest change being a reduction in testing. 

WRC teams will only be permitted 21 test days (seven per driver) instead of the allotted 28 as per last season in bid to reduced costs and improve sustainability. Last year each manufacturer driver would complete a pre-event test day prior to all European rounds.

The move has prompted mixed views among teams and drivers.

Also new for this year, Rally1 drivers will be restricted to using a total of 28 tyres during an event. They will also be no longer handed an extra four tyres for use in shakedown. 

In Gravel rallies only, organisers have removed the 15 minutes service normally held before the start of each day. 

“By removing the morning service on gravel events and trimming the flexi-service window for P1 cars, we can reduce the working day by up to three hours, which will benefit team members but also the many volunteer officials, including scrutineers and service park marshals,” explained FIA rally director Andrew Wheatley.

How to follow WRC in 2023

Autosport will provide reports, interviews and reaction.

Motorsport.tv will also have regular highlights both during and after each WRC round in 2023.

Pay television

WRC Plus All Live will provide live coverage from every stage.

BT Sport will provide daily highlights shows from every event this season.

 

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