49 elite drivers from across Africa are in Kenya competing in the legendary Safari Rally as Kenya gears to return to World Rally Championships after 16 years in the cold

President Uhuru Kenyatta flaging off the 66th Edition of Kenya’s legendary Safari Rally at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.
  • On Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off the 66th Edition of Kenya’s legendary Safari Rally at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, effectively kicking off Kenya’s campaign to be back at WRC.
  • The Safari rally, which is considered one of the world's toughest rallies, covering over 5,000km across rugged east African savannah, was started as an east African competition between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to celebrate the coronation of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
  • In 2003, the rally was dropped off the world circuit due to concerns over safety, organization and finances.

After 16 years in the cold, Kenya is rearing to be back at the prestigious World Rally Championships (WRC) scheduled for next year.

On Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off the 66th Edition of Kenya’s legendary Safari Rally at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, effectively kicking off Kenya’s campaign to be back at WRC. The Safari rally is a dress rehearsal for Kenya’s proposed return of the world rally championship in Africa.

The WRC candidate event, which has attracted 49 elite drivers from across Africa will cover over 796 kilometres in three days.

“Today, the journey we began in 2013 to return the most iconic of motoring events, the Safari Rally, to the International Automobile Federation-World Rally Championship Series, has scaled to greater heights as we proudly host this World Rally Championship Candidate Event,” President Kenyatta said.

President Kenyatta, who handed over a government sponsorship cheque of Sh449 million ($4.49 million) to the Kenya Motorsports Federation for use in the development of motorsport activities in the country, expressed optimism that the Safari Rally project in Kenya will become a full series event.

“Like so many Kenyans, I am confident that not only will this Safari Rally be a full series event, but also the Kenyan Flag will feature on the winning podium in a number of events,” said the President.

The Head of State acknowledged the support from FIA through its President Jean Todt in the ongoing efforts to ensure Kenya returns to the WRC. He assured the world motorsport's body of Kenya’s keenness to meet all FIA regulations, standards and requirements so that Kenya is re-admitted to the WRC.

The Safari rally, which is considered one of the world's toughest rallies, covering over 5,000km across rugged east African savannah, was started as an east African competition between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to celebrate the coronation of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

The competition, however, diminished in the late 1970s when it became a Kenyan-only affair, and in 2003 it was dropped off the world circuit due to concerns over safety, organization and finances.

The FIA and WRC promoter will be fully engaged in organising and observing the rally, and they are expected to make the final decision whether or not Kenya will be suitable to return to the WRC calendar next year after the competition.

This year's rally, which also counts to the African Rally championships, will run on closed roads and private farms proposed for next year's WRC rally.

Most of the action will be centred around Naivasha and the expansive Kedong Valley in Kenya's Rift Valley, for the most competitive sections of the rally.

The Kenyan government has spent close to 205 million shillings ($2 million) to bid, prepare and organize the candidate event, as a prelude to a three-year commitment to hold a WRC race in the country, and is sparing nothing to have a successful event.

"I believe the country has met all the FIA regulations in regards to safety and organization, and we are ready to hold a world class event," said Phineas Kimathi, who chairs a government-sponsored committee to organise the event.

On Saturday the cars will tackle two loops of the 132km super fast gravel stages around the Soysambu Conservancy in Gilgil, before shifting to the final 220km section around Malewa, Loldia and Kedong on Sunday.

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