Preparations for the World Rally Championship (WRC) Safari Rally 2021 have entered the home stretch with the arrival of experts from the WRC Promoter, the first trip since January last year, to take stock of the work organisers have been doing during the Covid-19 lockdown.
They will be in Naivasha this week to review the route ahead of the draft itinerary being sent to the International sport's governing body, FIA, next week. The experts have, however, held Zoom meetings with the Kenyan organisers throughout last year.
While Covid-19 forced the postponement of the 2020 Safari, there is optimism of little disruption of this year's WRC calendar whose graph of continuation will be subjected to scrutiny this week in the season-opening rally in Monte Carlo from tomorrow.
However, the second WRC round in Sweden, earlier scheduled for next month, was cancelled following a surge of Covid-19 cases in that country and the same has affected Rally Great Britain later in the year.
Belgium has been included for the first time in history on a date to be announced in August.
Lady Luck is smiling in Kenya following the announcement of the revival of Equator Rally - for a long time a second-tier international rally after the famous Safari. Until 2002, it used to count as the Kenyan round of the Africa Championship.
The Safari Rally assumed the Equator Rally continental status from 2003 after it was dropped from the WRC in 2002. Therefore, the 2021 Safari will, like in the days of yore, count towards the WRC and Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) only, clarified the Kenya Motor Sports Federation (KMSC) Chairman Phineas Kimathi.
Kenyans with cars that meet FIA eligibility, or plainly put in technical language, homologated machines will be allowed to compete in WRC 2/3 category in the Safari. They include three-time Africa champion Manvir Baryan, Okar Rai, Karan Patel, and further afield Zambian ace Roy Gomes among others.
Equator Rally will be held on April 24-25 in Naivasha and Gilgil through some WRC Safari Rally sections, two months before the Safari. Already WRC experts, Briton Iain Campbell and Joao Passos of Portugal, are happy to note that the Equator will be used as a dry run for the June 24-27 WRC Safari though at a reduced scale.
This is a God-given opportunity for the WRC Safari Rally team and the government to check out grey areas, if any, in all organisational aspects as Kenya last held an international motorsport event in July 2019 during the FIA Candidate event Safari.
The Covid-19 also halted the Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) for nine months.
This means that machines have been under wraps in garages, drivers have moved on and the future remains uncertain.
There is no better opportunity to rev again in a high-profile event that has attracted Africa's top drivers on a proposed WRC Safari Rally route at the Equator. Any European entry will further spice the continental event.
Of particular importance will be how the medical and safety teams will perform. The medical team led by Dr Raj Jutley and David Karuri was given the highest marks by the FIA in the 2019 Safari for their diligence and world-class approach in their duties.
Norris Ongalo brought together a highly dedicated team of safety marshals which ensued an incident-free Safari and members are already busy at work spurred by the simple message of advising drivers and spectators to make sure they attend rallies and return home safely.
Aspiring African drivers who are eligible to compete in the WRC Safari will also use the Equator Rally fixture to test their skills on a very demanding route.
This is like re-inventing the wheel back to the old days when the Equator Rally served as initial preparations for the Safari and drivers from the rest of the continent always equated this rally as a "mini " Safari.