WRC: Safari Rally puts Kenya back on world stage

Known as one of the toughest races in the world, the returning 18-stage Safari Rally takes place over four days between June 24-27.

Nairobi, Kenya – After a 19-year absence, Kenya is hosting this week the World Rally Championship (WRC), with thousands of fans attending the renowned Safari Rally, known to be one of the toughest races in the world.

Starting on Thursday, the rally will run until June 27.

“We are following the event, every aspect of it. We are here for it, because it’s an event we actually longed for,” a young spectator told Al Jazeera at the first stage held in the capital, Nairobi.

The Safari Rally was first held in 1953, an epic marathon of nearly 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) on often unforgiving terrain.

While international standards developed, the Safari Rally remained unchanged, leading to the WRC parting ways with it decades later.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to bring the event back after taking office eight years ago. On Thursday, he officially flagged it off.

“Everything’s organised to international standards,” Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb reported from the event.

British driver Nikhil Sachania steers his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X with Kenyan co-driver Deep Patel [Tony Karumba/AFP]

Speaking to Al Jazeera from the trackside, Kimathi Maingi, a former Safari Rally driver, said: “When we used to rally before, we didn’t need to wear the safety clothes. You could have your T-shirt; it was an option of whether to wear gloves or not.

“But now, they are supposed to wear the fireproof protection; they’re supposed to have a helmet. Everything is compulsory.”

In total, there are 18 stages of rough dirt roads through bush, forest and savannah.

By the end of Friday, Belgian Thierry Neuville of Hyundai was leading the way in the race.

After the opening seven specials, the standings are as follows:

  • 1. Thierry Neuville (BEL/Hyundai) 1hr 23min 19.1sec
  • 2. Takamoto Katsuta (JPN/Toyota) at 18.8sec
  • 3. Ott Tanak (EST/Hyundai) 55.8
  • 4. Sebastien Ogier (FRA/Toyota) 1:49.4
  • 5. Gus Greensmith (GBR/M-Sport Ford) 1:56.1
  • 6. Adrien Fourmaux (FRA/M-Sport Ford) 2:19.1

There will be six special timed stages on Saturday, with five more slated for Sunday.

Thierry Neuville is leading the way after seven stages [Khalil Senosi/AP photo]
Source: Al Jazeera