Nairobi, Jul 10: The Safari Rally's unique feature of being held in the wild has placed it as a worthy event for a 2020 return to the World Rally Championship (WRC), according to International Federation Automobile (FIA) officials.
The event, which was hosted as a WRC Candidate race with Kenya's Baldev Chager winning in a Mitsubishi Evolution car, has impressed WRC promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla, who has admitted that the 14-leg WRC has over the years lacked the jungle facet. "The Safari Rally holds iconic status across East Africa and it was fantastic to see fans attending from countries like Uganda and Tanzania, as well as large crowds from Kenya itself," said Ciesla on Wednesday in Nairobi.
"As far as WRC Promoter is concerned, the Safari Rally should be back to the championship. Obviously, we have to wait and we have to let the FIA do its work and make its report, but this was very, very good rally." WRC manager Andrew Wheatley and safety delegate Michele Mouton are due to submit their report to the FIA that will be used to confirm or deny Safari Rally readmission to the WRC later this year.
"The backing of Kenya's authorities is crucial to the Safari's proposed return and I was delighted to see the strength of support from the highest levels of the country's government," said Ciesla.
"Everything we wanted for the pictures, what the fans want to see, this rally has 100 percent delivered. There was a strong media presence while manufacturer WRC teams sent representatives to assess the facilities and Great Rift Valley special stages."
However, the Safari Rally despite getting the backing of FIA representatives must bite its time for the confirmation from Monaco-based motor sport governing body. Following the return of Rally Turkey to the WRC in 2018, FIA announced plans to expand the calendar to 14 rounds in 2019 with the long-term objective of running 16 championship events. The Safari Rally, Kenya's iconic motor rally event and the only one bidding from Africa to join the WRC, will have competition from 12 prospective proposals for events that have been put together, including candidate events in New Zealand, Japan and Chile. Other bids for WRC approval are from Croatia, Canada and Estonia.
"The WRC is definitely missing the zebras and buffaloes that were synonymous with the picturesque terrain of the Safari Rally back in the day. What we don't have today is a jungle rally or something akin to the Safari that's unique and different from the present day sprint events," Ciesla added.
The Safari Rally was last hosted as a WRC round in 2002. It was however, dropped from the series owing to lack of government support, sponsorship and safety concerns. These are the areas the current Safari Rally Project Team has worked on to win over the FIA approval and readmission to the WRC starting in 2020. (UNI-XINHUA)