Ogier regrets missing out on “completely new” Safari experience

Deferred to 2021, the African was set to return to the WRC for the first time in nearly 20 years in July

FIA World Rally Championship 2020 Stop 2 – Torsby, Sweden

Six-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier has expressed  disappointment in not being able to compete on the Safari Rally this year, an event “completely new for our generation of drivers.”

The Safari hasn’t appeared on the WRC calendar since 2002 when Colin McRae and Nicky Grist secured a near three-minute victory over Harri Rovanperä and Risto Pietiläinen.

The event has continued ever since as a round of the African Rally Championship and featured on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge calendar in 2007 and 2009, but 2020 was to be its first appearance on the WRC schedule for almost two decades.

The only current driver who competed 18 years ago was Sébastien Loeb, although it’s not known if he would have been selected for Hyundai’s third i20 Coupe WRC. The Safari was, however, the latest WRC round to be lost to the coronavirus last week. The Kenyan organisers are confident of a return in 2021, forcing the WRC’s latest generation of stars to wait one more year before facing the unique demands of rallying in Africa.

World championship leader Sébastien Ogier told DirtFish: “I think we are all excited about the idea of going on something completely different and completely new for our generation of drivers.

“Our generation’s never been racing in this continent and even, like I say, I don’t know much about it, but for sure I know enough to say it will be something completely different to what we’ve done in recent years. I think Turkey was already a little bit extreme in terms of conditions compared to what we were used to from the last years, but I think Kenya will be one step forward in this direction.

“It’s a bit of a shame because I’m sure a lot of people have been working very hard to make this rally come back in the calendar. But with the current situation it looked, for me, very complicated to organise this rally safely.”

Defending World Rally Champion Ott Tänak is already looking forward to next year’s Safari.

“It was a special one,” said the Estonian. “It was going to be very unique. I’ve also seen some pictures of some kind of tracks we have to follow or would have had to follow. It really was going to be like an excursion somewhere in the middle of Africa, but, OK, hopefully we will still have the chance to do it in the future.”