Safari Rally Kenya stands alone on the World Rally Championship calendar as the only time the crews get to compete in Africa.
Most of this year’s starters have experience of the event from its long-awaited return to the WRC last year, but not everyone. And how well can the new Rally1 cars cope with the unique demands of African rallying?
That’s all to be answered very soon, but if you’re planning a mini wager with your friends, take note of what’s to follow. Here’s DirtFish’s form guide to the 2022 Safari Rally Kenya:
#1 Sébastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 51st-2nd-1st
Best Safari Rally Kenya result: 1st (2021)
The reigning champion and the reigning Safari winner he may be, but 2022 hasn’t been vintage Sébastien Ogier so far.
OK, the goalposts are different in that Ogier’s not around for the full campaign, but a messy Rally Portugal and a missed opportunity on the Monte Carlo aren’t ones for his career highlights reel.
Ogier will be out to avenge that on the Safari, and in theory he stands a good chance. Starting ninth on the road and on a rally that requires a driver to use their head (as Ogier so often does), a first win for Ogier since partnering with Benjamin Veillas may be imminent.
#2 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 47th-DNF-6th
Best Safari Rally Kenya result: DNF (2021)
Oliver Solberg could do with a pick-me-up and a clean run of form – even his return to WRC2 in Portugal didn’t go to plan due to issues out of his control.
He could have a fighting chance on the Safari though given he, for once, isn’t down on experience compared to the others – at least in terms of the recce, as Solberg’s Safari last year ended all too quickly.
Expect a steady approach, but that could well yield a result if others get too carried away.
#8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 1st-6th-2nd
Best Safari Rally Kenya result: 3rd (2021)
Ott Tänak’s WRC career has been rejuvenated of late by encouraging performances in Croatia and of course that win last time out in Sardinia. Can he do it again in Kenya?
It could all hinge on the reliability of his equipment, but it’s clear that Tänak certainly has the minerals to do it. A firm factor in last year’s fight, he might well have picked up the spoils dropped by team-mate Thierry Neuville’s suspension failure had his windshield wipers not failed in the rain on the Sleeping Warrior stage.
Ever since his slow start to the year Tänak hasn’t really been considered a major player in the title race this season, but consider this. He’s only three points behind Neuville. A big score could very easily make him Kalle Rovanperä’s chaser-in-chief.
#9 Jourdan Serderidis/Frédéric Miclotte (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 20th-22nd-10th
Best Safari Rally Kenya result: N/A
Expecting a headline result from Jourdan Serderidis in Kenya would be foolish – he certainly won’t be. Instead he just wants to experience this storied rally in a top class car. Anything else is just a bonus.
But having said that, rough rallies can tend to be gold dust for gentlemen drivers who don’t push quite as hard as the factory pilots. Avoid any major peril and Serderidis could soon start climbing the leaderboard.
Above all else though it’s fantastic to see the first privately-owned Rally1 car out on the stages of the world championship.
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 41st-5th-3rd
Best Safari Rally Kenya result: DNF (2021)
Sardinia was the first blip in Thierry Neuville’s strong form in 2022. Yes the results haven’t always been great but that wasn’t for the lack of trying. Italy was the first time Neuville only had himself to blame.
The response in Kenya is key, as his gap to championship leader Rovanperä is already some 55 points. A bad weekend here and the task could be verging on impossible for the Hyundai pilot.
There’s plenty of motivation to succeed this year though given the heartbreaking final day retirement 12 months ago. Neuville absolutely aced the event, managing the conditions perfectly, before his suspension let go, so he has to be considered a favorite this time around too.
#16 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: DNF-9th-DNF
Best Safari Rally Kenya result: 5th (2021)
Just when Adrien Fourmaux looked to have built himself a base to build on with a points finish in Portugal, he delivered an alarming fourth non-score of the season in Italy. And we’re only five rounds into the year.
But Safari Rally Kenya at least holds happy memories for Fourmaux who recorded a career-best fifth place and a maiden (and so far only) WRC stage win here last year.
The approach has to be a steady one but, just as it is for Solberg, if Fourmaux executes that strategy properly it could net him a big result that’ll have be hugely important for his season as a whole.
#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 6th-4th-6th
Best Safari Rally Kenya result: 2nd (2021)
Takamoto Katsuta and Aaron Johnston couldn’t have had a more different Safari Rally Kenya experience last year if they tried. Katsuta, then partnered with Dan Barritt, led the rally on the final morning and eventually took second place while Johnston, navigating for Solberg, was out after just four stages and wouldn’t restart.
As a team, they’ll be hoping they experiecne Katsuta’s high rather than Johnston’s low. And encouragingy, there’s little to suggest they can’t.
Katsuta hasn’t always felt totally comforable with his GR Yaris Rally1 this season but that shouldn’t hamper him in Kenya where outright speed isn’t necessarily the winning strategy. Having sorted out his crash-heavy form of late last year, Katsuta looks to be back in the mental space that could very well deliver another podium result.
#19 Sébastien Loeb/Isabelle Galmiche (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: DNF-1st-6th
Best Safari Rally Kenya result: 5th (2002)
Sébastien Loeb and the Ford Puma Rally1 is a winning combination, no matter what the conditions. Victory on the Monte proved it, leading Rally Portugal cemented it. The question with Loeb this week therefore isn’t whether he can win, it’s if he will win.
Obviously, that’s impossible to answer, but Loeb does at least have a handy excuse if he doesn’t in that he is one of just three drivers in the Rally1 class not to have started the rally last year.
Will that faze a nine-time World Rally champion? Of course not. Will it disadvantage him? Potentially. But if there’s anywhere that Loeb’s building bank of off-road experience in rally raid and Extreme E will pay dividends, it’s on the Safari.
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 40th-2nd-5th
Best Safari Rally Kenya result: 10th (2021)
In retrospect, Safari Rally Kenya was where Elfyn Evans’ 2021 title challenge began to fall apart. Twelve months on, he must hope it’s where his title challenge begins to come alive – if he has any chance left at all.
It’s been a difficult season for many people’s title favorite, there’s no questioning that. But for his own sanity if not for his dwindling drivers’ championship hopes, Evans must start producing some big results – and consistently – to elevate himself back to the front.
A win would be nice, wouldn’t it? And Evans should have the tools to do that with a start position of sixth. But the same could be said for several events this season, and for whatever reason things just aren’t launching into top gear for Evans at the moment.
#42 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 2nd-8th-4th
Best Safari Rally Kenya result: N/A
Second place in Italy was a timely result for Craig Breen whose form had begun to trail off in recent WRC events.
A repeat on the Safari could be tricky given he missed last year’s event with Dani Sordo in the Hyundai instead, and his road position of fourth has the potential to be a bit restrictive too.
But Breen looked to make some important steps with the feeling of the car in Sardinia, and that should only serve him well for another hot, gravel rally in Kenya.
#44 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 7th-19th-5th
Best Safari Rally Kenya result: 4th (2021)
After that electric start to the season with a first career stage win on the Monte, Gus Greensmith’s form has rather plateaued since.
However Sardinia earlier this month was an important return to the points, and free from any pressure to worry about the manufacturers championship, Greensmith is back on the soil that yielded him his best WRC finish to date (fourth) last year.
It’s hard to judge how well Greensmith will do this week. The key to a good result will be avoiding any trouble and not getting tempted to punch in some headline stage times.
#69 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 5th-1st-1st
Best Safari Rally Kenya result: 6th (2021)
For the first time since January, Kalle Rovanperä was beaten to first place last time out in Sardinia. Not that his rivals were able to fully capitalize, as he still extended his championship lead.
The worry for the rest is Safari should suit Rovanperä well. He was going very well last year before getting stuck in some fesh-fesh and having to resign himself to a best of sixth place.
But first on the road Ogier was the victor, so there’s precedent to suggest that running at the front doesn’t make a Safari victory impossible.
The luxury Rovanperä has is he doesn’t really need to win this weekend. But try telling him that.