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Toyota follow Ford, Hyundai to keep eye on possible Safari return to WRC

TOYOTA men will also be watching the Safari Rally in Kenya next week. Like other World Rally Championship (WRC) teams Ford and Hyundai, Toyota Gazoo Racing will be sending Jussi Luopajarvi, their racing engineering manager and Rui Soares to Nairobi on Monday.

The WRC teams are showing interest in the Safari, this year’s Africa Rally Championship (ARC) round which is a candidate event to be included in the world championship calendar from 2020.

Top: Toyota Gazoo Racing’ Ott Tänak who will contest Shell Helix Rally Estonia, 12-14 July, ensuring all four World Rally Championship manufacturers are represented at the official WRC promotional event. Above: Toyota Gazoo Racing test driver Juho Hanninen

Top: Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Ott Tänak who will contest Shell Helix Rally Estonia, 12-14 July, ensuring all four World Rally Championship manufacturers are represented at the official WRC promotional event. Above: Toyota Gazoo Racing test driver Juho Hanninen

It is the first time since 2002 that factory teams are returning to Kenya. Ford and Hyundai rallying teams had already announced they will be sending observers and experts to watch the Safari Rally, taking place in Nairobi, Kiambu and Nakuru counties between July 5 and 7.

Hyundai are sending to Kenya, Pablo Marcos who arrives on Wednesday and the current WRC champions Ford M-Sport will be flying in Krzysztof Stolarczyk. These two will be assessing the competition, the route and conditions in Kenya to give their teams a head-start in preparation should the Safari become a WRC event next year.

Ford, now racing under M-Sport Team won the 2018 WRC through Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia. If they attend a WRC Safari next year, they will actually be returning as defending WRC Safari Rally Champions; picking up from where they left 17 years ago when the late Colin McRae and Nicky Grist drove their Ford Focus to victory in 2002, Safari’s last year in the WRC.

Friday morning, outside the WRC Safari Rally Project headquarters at Moi International Sports Centre, Nairobi. This year's Safari starts on July 5 with a 4.50 super special stage on the environs of the sports complex

Friday morning, outside the WRC Safari Rally Project headquarters at Moi International Sports Centre, Nairobi. This year’s Safari starts on July 5 with a 4.50 super special stage on the environs of the sports complex

Ford is also historic in the Safari. It is their works team entry of Finland’s Hannu Mikkola that became the first overseas winner of the Safari in 1972. Mikkola drove a Ford RS 1600 with Swede Gunnar Palm.

Ford had, otherwise been a very successful team previously in the Safari, having first won in 1955 (Ford Zephyr- Vic Preston Snr), 1958 (Ford Zephyr II – Arne Kopperund), 1964 (Ford Cortina GT – Peter Hughes) and 1969 (Ford Taunus 20M RS – Robin Hillyar).

After Mikkola’s Ford break-through for overseas drivers Swede, Bjorn Waldegard, produced a remarkable driver with Han Thorselius to win in 1977 in a Ford Escort RS 1800.

The British manufacturer stayed out for a decade before making a return in 1987 through Stig Blomqvist, also of Sweden, and Kenya’s Johnny Hillier in Ford Bosworth’s.  But they were unsuccessful.

It was in 1998 that Ford returned with three times Safari champion Juha Kankkunen, navigated by Juha Repo and late replacement Ari Vatanen/Fred Gallagher finished second and third respectively. McRae won in 1999 and 2001.

Hyundai were late entrants in the Safari, fielding a fully-fledged team in 2002 when Kankkunen finished 8th   in a Hyundai Accent. However, it was Phineas Kimathi, racing as a privateer who gave the South Korean manufacturer their first ever points in the WRC after winning the F2 category in a Coupe and finishing 18th overall.

-Additional reporting by Media Dept WRC Safari Rally Project

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