Pierre-Louis Loubet parked his M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1. Switched it off. Looked across to the right-hand seat and, briefly, wasn’t sure what to make of it. He’d just bounced one of the world’s most powerful leaders around the Safari Rally Kenya shakedown stage.
President Ruto took a moment. In his own words, he tried to assemble himself. He failed. His immediate reaction?
“I don’t know what to say,” he offered, looking momentarily bewildered by what he’d just been through.
A Rally1 car can do that to you. Supercar speed off the line and almost 550bhp going at the same corners which had just chewed up and spat out Takamoto Katsuta’s Toyota GR Yaris Rally1. It was… well sir, what was it?
The President stared straight ahead: “This thing is crazy. It’s absolute madness.”
Yikes, maybe things hadn’t quite gone to plan.
Yes they had.
“This was an experience I cannot forget,” he grinned. “The sheer speed, you hardly see the road, you can hardly see the bend.”
Looking in Loubet’s direction, he nodded. “These guys are really professional, they’re out of this world. This was a life-changing adventure.”
And relax. All good. But maybe not that good.
“If you ask me,” he added, “would I want to do this again? I’m not sure!
“It’s quite something. These people are so professional at what they do – the people who do this are really champions and every respect they have, they deserve our commendation.
“This was my first time in a rally car and hopefully I can assemble myself and do this again another time. It was very exciting and very good.”
President William Ruto was attending his nation’s biggest sporting event as Kenyan leader for the first time since the election in September.
Naturally, a change in high office can make a few folk hold their breath. Would His Excellency have as much fever for rallying as his forerunner?
Yes, he would. His enthusiasm would indicate a long-term future for the WRC in and around Naivasha.
“I remember seven or eight years ago when we decided we wanted to bring back the WRC, [it was] because of the emotional connection with the rally while we grew up,” he said. “[After] watching the cars, today I saw for the first time from the inside of the car and it is awesome, amazing.
“This is a whole-of-Kenya event. It’s a carnival, a celebration. Millions of Kenyans are engrossed in this. It will be difficult tomorrow and Friday to keep anybody at work; those who will have reasons will use their reasons and those who don’t will use their excuses [not to go to work to watch the rally].
“I’ll be working tomorrow, unfortunately for me.
“Our hotels are doing business, people are selling all manner of stuff, people are doing business. We have people on holiday, celebrating, out cheering and spectating. It’s all coming together and it’s all fantastic.”
With that, Loubet let out a long sigh of relief. He’d driven and delivered Kenya’s president with smiles neither of them would ever forget.