Nairobi — Kenyan Division One driver Hussein Malik is looking forward to the return of the WRC Safari Rally with great expectations.
The global showdown returns to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) after a 19-year hiatus and will revolve around the picturesque Great Rift Valley from June 24-27.
Malik will be using this weekend's FIA African Rally Championship's Equator Rally to fine-tune his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 10 well in time for June's extravaganza.
KCB Bank Kenya is the official banking partner while the Government of Kenya is the main sponsor.
Malik has had vivid memories of the Safari from running a winning Mitsubishi Evolution 6 car previously driven by Azar Anwar to an early encounter with the iconic event.
"The first encounter with the Safari was when I was fresh out of high school. I would go service for my uncle Moez Malik at that time and I remember seeing the WRC cars and listen to the rumble of the engines- it would raise the hair on my hands," Malik remembered with nostalgia.
Malik participated in the first rally that was in Nakuru County in February but unfortunately retired with mechanical gremlins.
"We have had to do everything in the car after our retirement. After Nakuru we have had a thorough going-over of the car, redone the suspensions and everything and we feel we are ready for the ARC. Towards that, we are preparing for the WRC. So, this weekend is going to a learning process as we look to make our debut in the WRC in June," Malik said.
Malik says the feeling and experience of competing with the likes of Sebastien Ogier "is just out of this world."
He believes the WRC experience will also gauge the locals and see how they can fair with the WRC drivers.
"Of course, we know they have superior machines. They will definitely wipe the ground with all of use, but again it will make us discover new limits, so thrills and spills are guaranteed. That's the excitement we have with the WRC boys around. The ARC with African drivers will be fun to drive but the WRC is going to be a different ball game."
Malik reckons that brushing shoulders with the works teams will rekindle the olden days when a mere mention of the word Safari would heighten the pulse rate of drivers across the country.
Malik says the evolving COVID-19 has remained a major hinderance to the rally-sport.
"It's been tough for all and sundry, tough for the economy as well. We have not had a rally the whole season last year. We started the 2021 season with Nakuru but got shut down in the run up to Machakos," Malik lamented.
"We are grateful to be able to do the rally in Nakuru and now the forthcoming ARC. We were kind of 50-50 about ARC as we didn't know whether it was going to happen but again KMSF have done their best to pull it and out everything together well in time," he added.
Malik.is excited about the longstanding KNRC sponsorship by KCB Bank Kenya.
"I have been rallying for the 10 years now and I can remember having KCB for majority of that time. They really helped up the sport and I'm glad they will be with the WRC as the official banking partners."