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Cash-strapped Safari Rally project tottering as world bid gets tighter

THE return of East Africa’s Safari Rally to the World Rally Championship (WRC) still occupies the mind of FIA (International Automobile Federation) Jean Todt who says he wants “a global championship” by staging rounds in continents that are not on the calendar.

David Evans reports on ‘Motorsport News’ Todt saying: “I want rallies in Europe where the history of rallying started – but I want to go to every part of the world: Latin America, Asia. I want to go back to Africa and we’re working on that and the Middle East. That’s what we want to achieve.”

They made commitments to FIA President Jean Todt (second from left) to work on getting the Safari Rally back on the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar, President Uhuru Kenyatta (second from right), Jaswant Rai (right) and Phineas Kimathi, the Kenya Motor Sports Foundation (KMSF) chairman

They made commitments to FIA President Jean Todt (second from left) to work on getting the Safari Rally back on the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar, President Uhuru Kenyatta (second from right), Jaswant Rai (right) and Phineas Kimathi, the Kenya Motor Sports Foundation (KMSF) chairman

But Todt said the WRC “cannot host 20 rallies, we need to find criteria.” His proposal is for more cross-border rallies as a way of easing the WRC calendar congestion.

Established rounds are coming under threat from events like the Safari and Rally Japan, both of which are expected to join the WRC next year at the expense of European events. The first two rounds of the season are currently shared, between Monte Carlo and France on round one and Sweden and Norway on round two.

“What I wish does not always happen, but I feel we should have some sort of creativity with rallies covering more than one country – this could help settle this question of European calendar.”

Carl Tundo splashes through a section in Kedong', Naivasha during the 2018 Safari Rally observed by FIA officials

Carl Tundo splashes through a section in Kedong’, Naivasha during the 2018 Safari Rally observed by FIA officials. Photo/ANWAR SIDI

Kenya and Japan will both run “candidate” rallies this season and are expected to be included if those run successfully. Kenya’s “candidate” event will be this year’s Safari Rally which will take place on July 5-7 and work on the organisation is carrying on, albeit with difficulties, mainly funding, personnel involved say.

Kenya’s bid to have the Safari Rally back on the WRC is an off-and-on hype, and with no less than the country’s President Uhuru Kenyatta engaging Todt and assuring him that it is a “national project” to, among other, publicise the country to boost tourism and trade relations with the rest of the world.

But Government financial guarantee remains just a promise. All aspects of the “candidate” event preparations and the whole WRC Safari Rally Project are severely hampered by lack of promised Government money and equipment at the project headquarters that Todt commissioned last year.

Jean Todt (right) commissions Kenya's WRC Safari Rally Project offices at the Moi International Sports Center, Kasarani in Nairobi. He is flanked by, from left; Jaswant Singh Rai a Kenya Motor Sports Foundation (KMSF) chairman, Peter Kaberia the Kenya Government Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Sports, Joshua Oigara head of Kenya Commercial Bank, Surinder Thathi of KMSF and FIA and KMSF chairman Phineas Kimathi

Jean Todt (right) commissions Kenya’s WRC Safari Rally Project offices at the Moi International Sports Center, Kasarani in Nairobi. He is flanked by, from left; Jaswant Singh Rai a Kenya Motor Sports Foundation (KMSF) chairman, Peter Kaberia the Kenya Government Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Sports, Joshua Oigara head of Kenya Commercial Bank, Surinder Thathi of KMSF and FIA and KMSF chairman Phineas Kimathi. Photo/ANWAR SIDI

At the time, Todt was convinced that with President Kenyatta’s support and that of chiefs in the corporate world, Kenya was capable of putting up a rally organisation that would meet WRC approval.

Todt felt encouraged by the presence in the Kenya WRC Safari Project people like Jaswant Rai, head of a business empire in Kenya that bankrolls sport with an annual budget to the tune of Sh1 billion. Rai group of companies supports one full-fledge professional rugby club, Kabras Sugar, three semi-professional sides – Top Fry Nakuru, Menengai Cream Homeboyz and Menengai Oilers – and runs five leading cars in the Kenya Rally Championship [KNRC]; of Baldev Chager, Onkar Rai, Tejvir Rai, Carl Tundo and Eric Bengi.

Alastair Cavenagh fords through a river bed during a Kenya National Rally Championship round

Alastair Cavenagh fords through a river bed during a Kenya National Rally Championship round. Photo/ANWAR SIDI

Alongside the Safari Rally WRC bid talks last year an optimistic Todt, on first name terms with Rai commented. “With leaders of big business like Jas here, Kenya has invaluable backing.”

With no money forthcoming from any source at the moment the Safari Rally Project headquarters is barely managing to prepare a rally course for the forthcoming “candidate” event as well as long time preparations of the a 2020 WRC Safari Rally event should the country be successful in its bid.

Gilles Panizzi's Peugeot 206 at the 2018 Safari Rally

Gilles Panizzi’s Peugeot 206 at the 2018 Safari Rally. Photo/ANWAR SIDI

As well as hoping that Ministry of Sport will come forth with promised money, the WRC Safari Rally Project, will be counting on the push of President Kenyatta and corporate leaders like Rai and Kenya Commercial Bank boss, Joshua Oigara, a big supporter of the motorsport in the country.

Corsica, Germany and Sardinia are understood to be the current WRC events under pressure, with two likely to be dropped to make room for the Safari and Japan. Despite WRC Promoter’s appetite for more events, the calendar is unlikely to expand beyond 14 rallies at the behest of the manufacturers.

Jas Chathe under a hail of dust in Kenya National Rally Championship event

Jas Chathe under a hail of dust in Kenya National Rally Championship event. Photo/ANWAR SIDI

“The championship, in its entirety, has had 32 countries,” said WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla. “I don’t think we need to hype so much which one is going. If it will be France, Italy or Germany going then in that very moment, of course it will be bad news.

“[But] if we do not go to the biggest markets in the future, which is also China and the United States, then this is not interesting for sponsors and car [manufacturers] to make their business in the future.

“And if you do not run a product that they sell this is also a threat. It makes little difference what European country we’re in or not in if they want to go to China, India or the US.

“Long-term, losing one European round is not a threat to the championship.”

The Peugeot 504 of Ove Anderson who was navigated by Jean Todt, current FIA President, in the vintage East African Safari d ays

The Peugeot 504 of Ove Anderson who was navigated by Jean Todt, current FIA President, in the vintage East African Safari days

Ciesla admitted he could see value in Todt’s idea of two-country events, adding: “I am not against this, but the technical implementation needed to have two countries working together is complicated.

“It is ideal from a political point of view, because it helps us to touch many more markets, but the truth is to combine two organisers is very complex; it means combining different governing bodies, different police forces. Very few countries work so close together.”

-Additional reporting by Motoring News

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