Kenya: FIA President Todt's Kenya Visit Seals Significant Approval of Country's Organisational Acumen

1 December 2020

Last Friday night, International Automobile Federation (FIA) President Jean Todt sat attentively, listening to a presentation on the WRC Safari Rally route by the resourceful Clerk of the Course Gurvir Bhabra in Nairobi.

Gurvir completed his detailed presentation with videos of the Safari's Hell's Gate Power Stage and Kasarani Super Special Stage, along with a video of the Kasarani stage developed recently by gaming company Nacon for its new WRC9 video game.

After the elaborate presentation, Todt turned around, surveyed the room, locked his eye on WRC Safari Rally chief executive Phineas Kimathi and Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed and heaved a huge sigh of relief.

"You did it!," he simply said.

There was a round of applause from officials seated in the room at the Ole Sereni Hotel, celebrating the FIA's stamp of approval of the 2021 WRC Safari Rally plans.

"Since we first started talking about this during my visit in 2018, you have actually done it!" Todt added as he prepared to dash to the airport for his flight to Manama ahead of Sunday's dramatic Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix.

The FIA boss expressed his confidence that Kenya will organise a stellar World Rally Championship round from June 24 to 27 next year.

His visit was extremely significant as the WRC Safari Rally team sought his seal of approval for plans ahead of the eagerly-awaited return of Kenya's fixture to the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar after a 19-year hiatus.

Todt visited the WRC Safari Rally's refurbished headquarters at Kasarani and the Service Park at the Kenya Wildlife Training Institute in Naivasha where he also broke ground for the construction of a VVIP Pavilion that will be a central figure at the rally's nerve centre.

Kenya hardly disappoints, with the red carpet reception rolled out for the FIA supremo including a visit to the Masai Mara National Reserve, highlighted by breakfast in the wild on Friday.

With Kenya having now met the FIA's expectations with compact, safe stages on closed roads, organisers will hit the final stretch on the road to next year's Safari Rally that's expected to pump approximately Sh6 billion into the Kenyan economy with various sectors of tourism and trade the major beneficiaries.

And like I commented on this column last week, Todt also noted that the rally's Service Park in Naivasha - the largest among all WRC rounds - can be used for various other events, like karting and drifting, as a legacy project.

Credit must go to Kimathi and his team at the Kasarani headquarters for burning the midnight oil to ensure Kenya puts up a memorable round next year to justify its inclusion in the global calendar.

The detailed presentation made by Gurvir and his team on Friday highlighted such preparedness with the team leaving nothing to chance in building up to June.

Safety concerns and lack of adequate financing were some of the key reasons why the Safari Rally lost the WRC status in 2002.

But these have now been resolved with President Uhuru Kenyatta meeting with Todt at State House, Nairobi, last Wednesday to reassure him of the government's commitment to the Safari Rally, a promise that was enshrined in President Kenyatta's Jubilee party pre-election manifesto.

The importance of safety in motorsport can't be over-emphasized and evidence of such significance was witnessed at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on Sunday when Romain Grosjean's car spiraled out of control after turn three, tearing through a barrier and bursting into a ball of flames at the Bahrain GP.

The Haas team driver literally had 28 seconds to live, within which time he escaped from his burning car, jumped over the barriers into the waiting arms of FIA doctor Ian Roberts and Medical Car driver Alan van der Merwe whose split-second reaction ensured the Frenchman was out of danger.

Such is the response expected from the Safari's medical team headed by experienced open heart surgeon Raj Jutley and consulting surgeon David Karuri - coincidentally, both avid bikers - who will be working in tandem with the safety team led by Norris Ongalo and Anwar Sidi.

Last November, Kenya's preparedness for medical emergencies was put to test when Manvir Baryan and Drew Sturrock rolled their Skoda Fabia R5 at the Meru Rally.

Swift action by the medical team rescued the pair from the scene and flew them to the Aga Khan University Hospital for treatment.

Meanwhile, the WRC Safari Rally's security is also in the able hands of Commissioner of Police Julius Kabiru who last week demonstrated, first hand, to Todt Kenya's security preparedness with the VIP security cover thrown around the FIA President's visit all through from his arrival on Egypt Air on Wednesday morning to departure aboard Emirates on Friday night.

Todt may have given his seal of approval, but, like he said at last Tuesday's press briefing at Kasarani, Kimathi and team must not let down their guard with the Safari's return to the WRC pushed from last June to next year but step up preparations using the extra year to put together a memorable event.

Todt also directed that Nairobi hosts a meeting of the FIA Confederation of African Countries in Motorsports which will be one of the numerous benefits of Kenya hosting a WRC round.

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