Kenya’s bid to bring back the Safari Rally into the World Rally Championship (WRC) has received a major endorsement after International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Jean Todt allayed any fears he had over the event.
Todt opened the WRC Safari Rally Project offices at Kasarani yesterday, officially kicking off the steering committee’s campaign to see that the Safari regains its lost glory.
The FIA boss had in the past relayed his concerns over the global event missing an African leg in the 13-round circuit but has now expressed his willingness to have the Safari back but warns it will not be easy.
“I was sad when the Safari lost its WRC status back in 2002. I have fond memories of racing in this beautiful country. I remember racing here in 1973 when I was 27 and the Safari was a reference in rally sport globally.
I will be happy to see drivers go back to those times,” said Todt. “We must admit times have changed and what was possible years ago like racing on open roads is no longer possible. We have to think of initiating a new format of rallying and adhere to all FIA requirements.
As a country, you deserve to have the event back,” he added. He has, however, warned that getting back to the rally will not be served on a silver platter and the steering committee will have to deliver.
“When I came here two years ago, no efforts were being made but today I feel encouraged by what I am told the government is doing and what I have seen. If you deliver, you will get the rally back, if you do not you will not get it,” said Todt.
Despite the project having been given close to Sh200 million in the previous budget allocations, the steering committee will have to think beyond 2020 when Safari is expected to return to the global circuit on matters sustainability.
The headache of using private roads for the event that will require long distance sections on private land awaits the committee as the WRC promoter will need to be convinced that there is value in having the event back to Africa.
Kenya found itself in the current situation in 1997 when FIA first expressed displeasure with the event, the only WRC staged in Africa, after foreign drivers feared participating as the country was rocked by violence after the General Election.
In 2000, FIA moved the rally from its traditional April date when the country is rainy and muddy to the less dramatic cold and dusty July losing its appeal to drivers who preferred manoeuvring their way through muddy and treacherous earth roads.
The nadir was loss of corporate sponsorship and the unwillingness to guarantee and bail out the cash-strapped Safari Rally Limited, which had failed to pay its dues to FIA.