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World champ Ogier wins it from Takamoto, but it’s all-round kudos for wonderful Safari staging in Kenya

Top: Sebastien Ogier at ‘Sleeping Warrior’ heading for Safari Rally victory over Toyota teammate Takamoto Katsuta, above on Sunday. Pictures/KEVIN GITIMU, NELSON JEREMY OGOLLA

Top: Sebastien Ogier at ‘Sleeping Warrior’ heading for Safari Rally victory over Toyota teammate Takamoto Katsuta, above on Sunday. Pictures/KEVIN GITIMU, NELSON JEREMY OGOLLA

In Malewa Bay, Lake Naivasha on the final morning of the Safari. Picture/KEVIN GITIMU

In Malewa Bay, Lake Naivasha on the final morning of the Safari. Picture/KEVIN GITIMU

  • What a weekend for rallying

  • The second pass of the ‘Sleeping Warrior’ was dominated by rain, although not for everyone

  • You’re just avoiding [obstacles] and you don’t know where you are. It was quite crazy – Takamoto Katsuta

  • Fearsome ‘Sleeping Warrior’ stage ended Saturday morning and it was another stage win for Seb Ogier. Takamoto Katsuta nibbled at the leader

  • What they said: “That was a show and a half! Definitely worth the wait. Congratulations to all winners and participants. To everyone who worked hard to bring back to our homeland

From GISHINGA NJOROGE

at Hell’s Gate National Park, Naivasha, Sunday

Sébastien Ogier snatched victory at Safari Rally Kenya, here this afternoon bringing a thrilling end to a World Rally Championship spectacle, last seen when this event was on the world circuit in 2002.

There was happiness, all round: from manufactures and their drivers, rally fans here and round the world and a Kenya Government whose role was crucial in bring back the Safari to WRC status.

Winner’s trophy and congratulations from President Uhuru Kenyatta for Sebastien Ogier. Picture/KEVIN GITIMU

Winner’s trophy and congratulations from President Uhuru Kenyatta for Sebastien Ogier. Picture/KEVIN GITIMU

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta, awarding the prizes announced that the Safari would be on the WRC circuit till 2026 after reaching an agreement with FIA (International Automobile Federation) and the WRC Promoter. Jean Todt, the FIA Presidenrt was beside President Kenyatta in many functions throughout the week.

The Safari lived up to its reputation as one of the world’s iconic motorsport events. Rocky and sandy gravel tracks around Lakes Naivasha and Elmentaita in the Great Rift Valley provided a brutal test, while stunning scenery, exotic wildlife and enthusiastic locals portrayed Africa at its best.

Many Kenyans rooted for Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta, second overall in the end at the Safari. Picture/KEVIN GITIMU

Many Kenyans rooted for Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta, second overall in the end at the Safari. Picture/KEVIN GITIMU

Gallant Kenyan drivers joined the ranks of the world class celebration at the end of the rally. Despite driving cars outpaced in power by the WRC category 1 and 11 classes, they displayed remarkable talent and where half of the [12] WRC Priority 1 drivers were vanquished by the Safari, the literary ‘Grade 3” category Onkar Rai, Karan Patel and Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo of Kenya finished in the ‘Top Ten’.

Onkar Rai at 'Sleeping Warrior' ... placed 7th and leading Kenyan driver at the Safari. Picture/NELSON JEREMY OGOLLA

Onkar Rai at ‘Sleeping Warrior’ … placed 7th and leading Kenyan driver at the Safari. Picture/NELSON JEREMY OGOLLA

Placed seventh to ninth in that order, the three Kenyan aces rekindled the story of the days when locals showed world class mettle to be included in leading world manufacturers’ teams’ line-ups such as: Joginder Singh, Bert Shankland, Shekhar Mehta, Vic Preston Senior, Vic Preston Jnr, Peter Shiyukah, Mike Kirkland, Johnny Hellier, Rob Collinge, Jayant Shah, Ashok Patel, Ian Duncan, Basil Criticos, Greg Criticos, Patrick Njiru, Phineas Kimathi.

Karan Patel at Malewa Bay, Lake Naivasha on Sunday morning. Picture/KEVIN GITIMU

Karan Patel at Malewa Bay, Lake Naivasha on Sunday morning. Picture/KEVIN GITIMU

The good performance of first-timer young Kenyan drivers, aged 19-30, in this year’s Safari also boosted the local effort by President Kenyatta, supported by the FIA and the corporate to create a “production line” for future world class Kenyan drivers. Those who impressed were overall:

8th: Karan Patel, 30 (Ford Fiesta, WRC3)

16th: Jeremy Wahome, 22 (Ford Fiesta ST Rally 3)

25th: Hamza Anwar, 22 (Ford Fiesta ST Rally 3)

26th: Rio Smith, 19 (Ford Fiesta)

How the ‘Daily Nation’ newspaper described Kenya’s heroic youngsters. Pictures/Courtesy ‘DAILY NATION’

How the ‘Daily Nation’ newspaper described Kenya’s heroic youngsters. Pictures/Courtesy ‘DAILY NATION’

Frenchman Ogier of Toyota won the Safari in a dramatic ending after long time leader, Belgian Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville’s dreams were shattered by his car’s suspension. Then Ogier had to overhaul fellow Toyota driver, Takamoto Katsuta of Japan who held the leadership for a while with slender 7.9scs.

Jeremy Wahome at 'Sleeping Warrior'. Pcture/Courtesy KEVIN GITIMU

Jeremy Wahome at ‘Sleeping Warrior’. Pcture/Courtesy KEVIN GITIMU

Neuville retired his Hyundai i20 in Sunday’s opening speed test after hitting a rock and smashing the right rear damper, then Ogier was perfectly placed to capitalise. He demoted Katsuta in the penultimate stage to win the punishing four-day African classic by 21.8sec.

Ogier clawed his way up the order from seventh after suffering suspension troubles of his own on Friday. His fourth win in six rounds extended the seven-time champion’s lead to 34 points at the WRC season midpoint.

“After our troubles on Friday, we had a really good weekend, really good pace,” said Ogier. “It’s been an amazing experience to be here. The support we got from the local people was incredible. It might be a bit shorter than the old days, but the challenge is still very tough.”

Neuville had led for all but two stages until his premature demise, the third rally in succession that Hyundai had retired from the lead with suspension troubles.

“Very hard luck for us, but also for all the team,” said the Belgian. “Three tough rally weekends in a row, and nobody deserved that. We would have deserved three victories in the last three events, but unfortunately we didn’t.”

Japan’s Katsuta was a ‘darling’ for the locals who were wishing the lone ‘Samurai’ ranger from the “East” would triumph of the huge “foreign legion” of the West [Europe]. Some locals even felt that probably Toyota Gazoo Racing Principal Jari-Matti Latvala had issued “team orders” that Ogier should lead the 1-2 for Toyota to consolidate his WRC Drivers’ Championship quest.

Carl Tundo at Malewa Bay, Lake Naivasha. He was to finish ninth in the Safari. Picture/KEVIN GITIMU

Kenya ace Carl Tundo at Malewa Bay, Lake Naivasha. He was to finish ninth in the Safari. Picture/KEVIN GITIMU

However, the 2nd place was good enough for ever improving Katsuta who claimed his first WRC podium. Aside from a couple of engine stalls, Katsuta was exemplary throughout. He ended 47.7sec clear of Ott Tänak, who was closing in until a faulty windscreen heater in Saturday’s final rain-lashed stage forced him to stop and clean the misted glass with his hand.

Toyota widened its manufacturers’ championship lead [over Hyundai] to 59 points. M-Sport Ford twins Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux claimed fourth and fifth in their Fiestas. Their risk-free strategy paid dividends and Frenchman Fourmaux celebrated his maiden top-level stage win on Sunday morning. They were split by just a tenth after Fourmaux received a post-rally 10sec penalty.

Kalle Rovanperä was almost nine minutes adrift in sixth in his Yaris, after receiving a hefty time penalty when his car ground to a halt in deep sand on Friday and he retired.

Wonderful results for the Kenya fans was about their compatriot, Onkar Rai storming through to catch up with the leaders in a Safari where six professional WRC Priority 1 drivers could not. Neither did any of the two WRC Priority II drivers makeit  through the Safari.

Therefore, Onkar Rai, in the WRC3 class, hoisted himself up the ranks and to 7th, just behind the world’s best professionals. He was chased in the “Top 10” by compatriots, Patel (8th) and Tundo (9th); the Kenyan trio beating Toyota’s Elfyn Evans (Great Britain), Italian Lorenzo Bartelli (Ford) and Spaniard Dani Sordo (Hyundai).

After the Safari Rally Kenya, the WRC returns to Europe when Rally Estonia (15 – 18 July) kicks-off the second half of the season.

Kenya was awash with compatriots hailing the wonderful return of the historic Safari to the WRC. The national mood was also boosted to happiness as the foreigners talked about how happy they were with the hosts.

A foreign journalist said the Safari was a unique sport and dream adventure: “Beyond the landscape, people and the animals – Giraffe, Zebra, Warthog, Ostrich and Buffalo watching from far, and maybe even Leopard, Cheetah and Hippo in hiding, we had drama; beyond the i20s, we had a Japanese driver leading a WRC round for the first time in close to 30 years. And ultimately we had a Sébastien Ogier-Toyota masterclass in control of both the rally and the title chase.”

Here are some other quotes from the Safari Rally:

Michelle Mouton (France), 3rd overall in an Audi Quattro in the 1984 was this year’s FIA Safety Delegate. She said:

“Congratulations for a great event, where you even managed to get some rain!. All the best.”

Sebastian Ogier (France, winner): “I had a love-hate relationship with the Safari. I loved it, it hates my guts. Will definitely be back.”

Ott Tanak (Estonia): “If it’s not on the [WRC] calendar next year, I will stop racing. A baboon jumped over my car during ‘recce’ and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Such beauty.”

Takamoto Katsuta (Japan): “I am definitely coming for holidays in Kenya with my family … and not driving.”

Kalle Rovanperra (Finland): “Short rally, long rally, beautiful rally. I am all still absorbing the beauty of the Safari.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya: “World has once again witnessed the unique grandeur of motorsport in Kenya, the unpararelled fan enthusiasm of our Nation, and the sporting excellence of the various teams throughout this great Safari Rally.”

Phineas Kimathi (CEO, WRC Safari Kenya/President Kenya Motor Sports Federation): “I laud the local and international media for the exemplary profiling of the @wrcsafarirally. Well done  @eliasmakori, National Press Officer and the entire [Media Dept] team.”

Frank Kaheesi (Uganda Media- ‘The Observer’): “Good work. Wonderful hospitality. If had enough budget would have stayed much more days. Let’s keep in touch.”

Kenya resident: “Traffic and the overwhelming number of spectators almost overrun the Police. Safari interest is too huge and apparently Naivasha too small a town, can we move to the open Marsabit of somewhere …”

Additional reporting by Correspondents, WRC, ABDUL SIDI of WRC Safari Rally Kenya Media Dept

 

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