Kenyan President William Ruto was on hand in Naivasha, Kenya on Wednesday to wave off the 70th edition of Safari Rally Kenya (22 - 25 June), before being given a front-row experience to the FIA World Rally Championship.
Accompanied by Sport Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba, Ruto first visited the rally’s service park near Lake Naivasha and mingled with crews before strapping himself into the co-driver’s seat of Pierre-Louis Loubet’s M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid for a high-speed run through shakedown.
Ruto, who will return to the event on Sunday to celebrate with the winners at Hell's Gate, was taken aback by the experience.
“I don’t know what to say, that thing is crazy!” he beamed, gesturing towards Loubet’s Puma. “Absolute madness - but it is an experience you cannot forget. The sheer speed, you can hardly see the road, you can hardly see the bend. These guys are really professional, it’s a life-changing adventure.”
Ruto went on to emphasise the countrywide impact WRC is having on Kenya, adding: “It is not just about the rally car, it is not just about the drivers, it is not just about the support teams – it is a whole of Kenya event. The carnival, the excitement, the celebration - it is just that captivating.
“Millions of Kenyans are engrossed in this. We will have great difficulty tomorrow and Friday to keep everybody at work! Those who have reasons will look for those reasons, those who don’t have reasons will look for excuses. I will be working tomorrow, unfortunately for me,” he joked.
When the action gets underway in Nairobi on Thursday afternoon, championship leader Kalle Rovanperä will be the driver to beat as he hunts down back-to-back Safari wins in a Toyota GR Yaris. Sébastien Ogier, Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta all helped to complete a 1-2-3-4 finish for the Japanese marque here 12 months ago and all are back again this rime round.
Hyundai hopefuls Thierry Neuville, Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo start the rally buoyed by a double podium last time out in Italy, although Lappi admits he is entering the unknown on his maiden Safari outing.
Ott Tänak, third in the points, spearheads M-Sport Ford’s charge. The Estonian teams up with young Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet as well as Greek privateer Jourdan Serderidis in identical Puma cars.
Long straight roads where speeds could top 200kph contrast with rocky rutted tracks and deep fesh-fesh sand that can reduce cars to little more than walking pace. And, to add to the excitement, thunderstorms are predicted during the four-day encounter. If the forecasters are correct, rain could transform the dry sections into treacherous mud baths in minutes.
Image: Pierre-Louis Loubet (FRA) Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) M-Sport Ford WRT are seen racing during the World Rally Championship Kenya in Naivasha, Kenya on 21 June, 2023