Nairobi — Kenya's continued commitment towards preserving and showcasing the unique wildlife heritage coupled with the fabled Safari Rally antics caught the attention of the global motorsport community for many reasons.
Who could actually forget an image of Ott Tanak posing in front of a giraffe with the message "Jambo Africa"?
This Tweet caused quite a stir on the 2019 World Champion's handle: handing WRC Safari visitors a sneak preview of what to expect in the weeklong schedule which culminated in Naivasha on June 27.
The eye-catching giraffe Tweet rekindled memories of Jamaican sprint legend Usain Bolt who adopted a cheetah when he visited Kenya in 2009 and paid USD 13700 (Sh1.5m) for the cub and a further USD 3000 (Sh300,000) annual fee to care for it.
And if ever the FIA World Rally Championship needed confirmation it was back in Africa after a 19- year hiatus, as www.wrc.com would put it, Dani Sordo provided it – with a monkey sitting on top of his recce car at the end of his second practice run of the Wolf Power Stage.
Sordo told the wrc website that the presence of the monkey during recce was a great way to kick-start his debut in Africa.
"I know they like bananas," he said. "I had some in the car, so I thought I would give to them. I got out and gave to one, but then they were all coming to my hand for more bananas. One of them put it on the top of my car – I was still driving and he was still on the top of the car," Sordo narrated of his initial African experience.
During Safari's return to the big stage, the Government urged World Rally Championship (WRC) drivers to follow suit and adopt local animals in a bid to boost its environmental and tourism sectors.
— infrastructure upgrades-
Hotel upgrades around the period of June and the timely re-carpeting of Moi South Lake Road; a state-of-the-art asphalt Service Park (which went down in history as the biggest in the WRC) and most importantly the timely upgrade of Naivasha Level 5 Hospital with a helipad, HDU and ICU facilities were a major boost for an event which pumps a whooping KSHS. 6b to the Kenyan economy.
Hotels in Naivasha recorded an unprecedented sellout, which was good for Kenya's fast rising sports tourism also boosted by the iconic Kenya Open Golf, Kip Keino Classic and the World Athletics Under 20 Championships.
-Adopt our animals-
Wildlife Research and Training Institute Chief Executive Officer Patrick Omondi was quoted as saying that the adoption will no doubt bolster Kenya's wildlife conservation efforts as some of the animals are threatened by trophy hunting, climatic changes and human encroachment.
WRC Commentator Becs Williams on her part added to the Safari zest saying: "It was my first time being on the Safari. I did work on the event back in 2002 But I was working remotely in a studio in the UK, so I had a feel of it back then but didn't experience it first-hand until 2021 and I must say I was blown away on many levels.
There were so many doubters of what it was going to be like and after the Shakedown Stage, their heads were turned and their minds were changed.
You simply don't see stages like these in the championship and that's so important. Safari was very different and we were all captivated by the animals because back home for me in Wales there are sheep across the road and horses.
In Safari you would see rhinos just wandering around and I think it blew everyone's mind, there was lots of dust which everyone loves to see and brilliant heli-shots. What the drivers loved was the support of the fans from the ceremonial start to the super special stage, Power Stage at Hell's Gate, to the finish.
-WRC Drivers support Kenyan charities-
Safari winner Sebastien Ogier donated Sh2.5 million (€20,000) to two Kenyan charities and revealed that Nakuru Children's Project and Ol Pejeta Conservancy each received half of the amount.
Belgian driver Thierry Neville fulfilled his (€2,000) Sh250,000 promise made before June's Safari to Sheldrick Wildlife Trust as part of his rally-by-rally charity drive.
-Safari office opened in Finland-
In late September, the WRC Safari Rally opened an office in Lahti, Finland to coordinate the event's activities in continental Europe for participants, teams and fans.
The office is envisaged to help market Kenya products like coffee and improve trade between Kenya and Finland using the Safari, now a round of the World Rally Championship (WRC) for the next five years.
The Safari Rally CEO Phineas Kimathi who was present accompanied by the Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed presided over the setting up of an exhibition trade fair stand at WRC Rally Finland 2021 in the forest of Jyvaskyla to promote local merchandise, Kenya coffee and sell the 2022 WRC Safari Rally.
— FIA Two-Star Environmental status-
The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) awarded Kenya the Two- Star Environmental accreditation based on audit information from the 2021 WRC Safari Rally.
"For its first event in 19 years, the organiser of the WRC Safari Rally in Kenya demonstrated a very strong commitment to environmental management," said the FIA Environment Accreditation Auditor Even Wiger in his report done on 24 July this year.
WRC Safari Rally Greening Legacy project was a great initiative. The project is an environmental conservation program aimed at planting 18 million trees over the next three years to commemorate the 18 years that the Safari Rally was out of the World Rally Championship Circuit.
This project is being driven by a multi-agency operation team in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and Save Our Rivers Initiative (SORI) and other community-based partners.
According to CS Amina, the partnership and ownership of this project at community level has guaranteed survival rates of above 90% after the first year of planting making this project effective and sustainable.
This Safari Rally Greening Legacy project joined the FIA/WRC family's model of giving back to nature.
"Our target is to create a Safari Forest at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani and plant trees along the traditional safari routes in Kilifi, Mombasa, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Machakos, Makueni, Murang'a, Meru, Nyeri, Embu, Kirinyaga, Kiambu, Kajiado, Laikipia, Isiolo, Narok, Nakuru and Nairobi Counties. We have also added the Kakamega Rainforest and the Lake Basin Region into our target areas because of the centrality of the Kakamega forest and Lake Victoria to our natural ecosystem," Amina explained.
-Zasada makes Safari comeback – aged 91!-
Ninety-one-year-old Sobieslaw Zasada graced the Safari – 24 years after his last competitive rally start and became the oldest competitor to start a WRC round in championship history. The Pole drove a Ford Fiesta Rally3 run by M-Sport Poland on the gruelling African encounter but failed to finish.
Zasada's last rally was the 1997 Safari when he finished 12th alongside his wife, Ewa, in a Mitsubishi Lancer. That was his eighth start in the Kenyan iconic event.
-Safari most followed WRC event ever on Facebook-
WRC post-event Promoter report ranked Safari Rally as the most followed WRC event ever on Facebook with a massive 31.8 million views as opposed to Rally Italia Sardegna which accumulated 16.8 million views and 18.6 million views in 2019 and 2018 respectively.
The Safari fervor outscored all the events this year with the Shakedown at Loldia being ranked as the most watched in WRC history thanks to traffic from Kenya occasioned by a relentless pre-event public blitz.
Traffic jam on the Moi South Lake Road as late as 1:00 am and some drivers walking to their hotels reaffirmed the level of enthusiasm for rally-crazy spectators who transformed "Vasha" into a busy 24-Hour setting, something akin to "New York" city.
According to CEO Phineas Kimathi, alternative separate roads for the rally traffic have been considered in the 2022 event, meaning that spectators will not share or interfere with the free flow of traffic on the race weekend.
-Takamoto's Instagram post-
Toyota Gazoo Racing Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta's top speed antics caught the eye of global racing fraternity for most in this platform, as he emerged as the most performing post on Facebook with over 4.1 million views.
The WRC Promoter report further says that the Safari racked up an astonishing 26.6 million Instagram impressions with a total of 262 posts and over 3.5 million video views.
Kalle Rovanpera's post was the most performing post on Instagram.
On microblogging site Twitter, the Safari rally generated a splendid 5.4 million impressions with over 150k video views.
BBC World news led Priority 1 news channels with 78 million views, followed by Japan (76M) and United States (52M). Nation Africa pay wall recorded 2M impressions to rank first in Africa and 14th in the world.
The WRC official website received a total of 33,274 views during the Safari Rally, making it the most followed rally event this year, with only Rally Monte Carlo Croatia Rally getting to over 20,000 views.
Aside from WRC Promoter platforms, Youtube attracted 15 million viewers, not to mention over 50 newspaper full pages locally in 4 days by our daily press as well as extensive digital coverage.
WRC Commentator Becs Williams on her part said: "It was my first time being on the Safari. I did work on the event back in 2002 But I was working remotely in a studio in the UK, so I had a feel of it back then but didn't experience it first-hand until 2021 and I must say I was blown away on many levels.
There were so many doubters of what it was going to be like and after the Shakedown Stage, their heads were turned and their minds were changed. You simply don't see stages like these in the championship and that's so important.
Safari was very different and we were all captivated by the animals because back home for me in Wales there are sheep across the road and horses.
In Safari you would see rhinos just wandering around and I think it blew everyone's mind, there was lots of dust which everyone loves to see and brilliant helishots. What the drivers loved was the support of the fans from the ceremonial start to the super special stage, Power Stage at Hell's Gate, to the finish.
-Onkar Rules WRC3-
Onkar Rai in a credible 7th overall position was the highest placed local driver in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
The Nakuru speed merchant sealed victory by 4min 04.0sec and dedicated the win to his brother Tejveer, who crashed out on Day Ones high-speed crash.
Tej was airlifted to Nairobi for specialized following a spine related injury. Obkar was later named the LG Sport's Personally of the Month of June. He later donated his LG TV prize to Nakuru level 5 hospital to create awareness for people with spinal injuries.
Karan Patel in 8th was the second best placed local. He was delighted to finish WRC3- category in his Ford Fiesta R5. The 30-year-old racked up 40sec in penalties due to late check-ins, but had a healthy 3min 10.3sec advantage over 9th place Carl Tundo by the end.
Tundo's rally had been eventful to say the least. The former Safari winner started as a favourite, but dropped over 7min when he crashed his Polo into a tree in SS4. He went on to claim multiple stage wins and was relieved to salvage a WRC3 podium.
Onkar, Tundo and Karan also scored historic WRC points on Safari.
Tundo won a rare double of the KNRC and the FIA African Rally Championship (ARC) titles to repeat Jassi Chatthe's 2015 feat. He delivered the ARC title with longtime navigator Tim Jessop following victory in Rwanda last month.
Tundo won four out of six events in the continental series in Zambia, Tanzania, Rwanda and the revived Equator Rally which replaced the Safari in the ARC.
On the local scene, Tundo beat archival Baldev Chager to the KNRC title on homestretch in the KCB Guru Nanak Rally.
-2022 FIA Regulation Changes-
Last but not least, the FIA introduced the Rally Pyramid effective 2022 where Rally 1 will be the World Rally Car and Rally 2 the former R5 car,
Rally 3 will be a new class to replace N4, while Rally 4 will be the former R2 cars 2WD modified and Rally 5 a cheaper 2WD cars class for beginners.
1 Carl Tundo 187
2 Baldev Chager 174
3 Jasmeet Chana 137
4 Karan Patel 110
5. Aakif Virani 93
6 Onkar Rai 73
FIA AFRICAN RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
1 Carl Tundo (KEN) 120pts
2 Yasin Nasser (UGA) 96pts
3 Guy Botteril (ZAF) 73pts
4 Karan Patel (KEN) 48pts
5 Giancarlo Davite (RWA) 34pts
6 Kimathi Mcrae(KEN) 32pts
7= Farid Daniel Assaf (CIV) 24pts
7=Tejveer Rai (KEN)24pts
9 Jas Mangat (UGA) 21pts
10 Maxine Wahome (KEN) 19pts
11= Onkar Rai (KEN) 17pts
11=Jeremy Wahome (KEN) 17pts
13 Jasmeet Chana (KEN) 15pts
13=Gurpal Sandhu (TZA) 15pts
15= Nikhil Sachania (KEN) 13pts
15= Nzioka Waita (KEN) 13pts
17 Piero Canobbio (KEN) 11pts
18 Evans Kavisi (KEN) 9pts