President Uhuru Kenyatta has said Kenya is adequately prepared to welcome back the World Rally Championship (WRC) Safari Rally, assuring that the annual competition that runs next week "is here to stay."
At the same time, the President urged Kenyan motorsport enthusiasts who will be attending the four-day Safari Rally from June 24 to 27 to be careful, saying it had taken the country years of negotiations and preparations to bring back the WRC event after an 18-year absence.
"It was 2010 when we started trying to work with WRC to ask them to get back. There were a lot of hurdles along the way.
"The preparations have been intense and I want to thank all agencies, our private sector, and rally enthusiasts who have given their time and effort to ensure that this event takes place.
"My hope and my prayer is that the manner in which we shall conduct ourselves over the next few days will be such that everybody will accept and understand that the Safari Rally is now here and is here to stay, and we're not likely to lose it.
"But that will depend on not only how you the drivers all perform, all the agencies involved will perform but how Kenyans themselves will behave," the President said.
The Head of State spoke Thursday - on the eve of rally week - at State House, Nairobi, when he presented brand new rally cars to young Kenyan drivers Hamza Anwar (22 years old), McRae Kimathi (26) and Jeremy Wahome (22).
The three drivers are sponsored for the WRC Safari Rally by Safaricom and Kenya Airways.
The President wished the young drivers success in the Safari Rally and in future local and international motorsport telling them to always be good Kenya Ambassadors.
At the event attended by CEOs Peter Ndegwa (Safaricom), Allan Kilavuka (Kenya Airways) and Joshua Oigara (KCB), the President urged the Kenyan corporate sponsors of the 2021 WRC Safari Rally to continue supporting the event in future so as to ensure Kenya retains it long term.
"To all the sponsors, thank you very much. Please don't treat this as a one-off event, mark it in your annual budgetary calendars. We will be looking to you to help us maintain this rally here in Kenya," the President said.
Sports CS Amina Mohamed, who also spoke at the event, also attended by motorsport veterans Ian Duncan, Onkar Rai and Carl 'Flash' Tundo, and Onka Rai thanked President Kenyatta for his personal involvement in lobbying for the return of the WRC Safari Rally.
"Thank you for bringing the rally back home. We are extremely grateful to you," CS Amina told the President, adding that the return of WRC Safari Rally will re-ignite Kenya's motorsport heritage.
Also present at the handover ceremony were Sports Principal Secretary Joe Okudo and Safari Rally CEO Phineas Kimathi, among other motorsport officials and enthusiasts.
Meanwhile, activities ahead of the Safari Rally's eagerly-awaited return to the World Rally Championship continued to build up to a crescendo with the arrival of the first WRC rally car Thursday.
M-Sport team's first car landed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport shortly after 3am via a Kenya Airways Cargo flight.
The arrival was the more significant because it was the first time in 19 years for a WRC car to land on African soil.
More WRC team cars are expected at the airport Friday, with accessories and other team equipment having earlier docked at the Mombasa port over the last week.
Naivasha, the nerve centre of the rally, continues to be a busy address with various installations taking shape.
Over 200 journalists and media support personnel are expected to be accredited for the Kenyan round of the World Rally Championships.