Safari Rally Kenya winner Sébastien Ogier has hailed the return of the event to the World Rally Championship, saying the challenge it presents is “what we like” as drivers.
The Safari returned to the WRC last week for the first time since 2002 and proved to be a real challenge with extreme weather, unpredictable road surfaces and rocky terrain taking its toll on the field.
Of the 11 World Rally Cars to start, only five made it to the finish without retiring at any point during the weekend.
Ogier had looked like an outside bet for the win, particularly when the rear-left damper on his Toyota Yaris WRC lost all of its oil on Friday morning, but a typically calculated and gritty comeback drive helped him steadily rise up the leaderboard.
He disposed of Ott Tänak on Saturday’s final stormy test to climb onto the podium before moving up to second when Thierry Neuville retired from a near-minute lead with a broken rear-right damper.
Ogier then caught and passed Toyota junior Takamoto Katsuta to record his fourth win of the 2021 season, thus extending his championship lead over Elfyn Evans to 34 points.
Asked by DirtFish if he can understand just how he managed to pull the victory off in Kenya, Ogier hailed the rugged nature of the event for keeping everything open.
“We knew it’s a rally where a lot of things can happen and it happened, quite a lot actually,” he said.
“It’s been a tough challenge like expected. I think Rally Kenya didn’t disappoint anybody, lots of entertainment I believe to follow that one.
“I think it’s been a really enjoyable experience, a tough challenge of course,” Ogier added.
“Different from anything else we’ve done in our career but that’s what we expected and that’s what we like.
“Shock of culture, shock of many things but the enthusiasm of the people, the whole package that we got this weekend has been great. I think we’ve built a lot of memories that we will remember for a long time.”
Despite a spate of problems – including a puncture and a fogged-up windshield – Ott Tänak was also a fan of the Safari’s challenge.
“I actually did,” he said when asked by DirtFish if he’d enjoyed the event. “Especially Friday and today [Sunday] when it was more rough and challenging.
“When you do stages like Saturday, very smooth and more like Europe and normal roads it’s nothing special, but I would say if Safari can be like Safari needs to be then it’s a special place and I really enjoy it.”
There had been debate before the event whether the considerably shorter competitive distance compared to past editions of the event in the world championship would blunt its challenge.
But while M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson could only watch the event from the team’s English base due to quarantine complications, he was left in no doubt that the 2021 iteration was a proper Safari.
“I think you just need to look and see by all the images and the drama and everything that’s unfolded on the event,” he told DirtFish.
“Don’t get me wrong, if you’re in the unfortunate situation where something goes wrong then it’s very, very difficult but I think the rally just brings something else to the championship and from what I’ve seen, I have to tell you I will definitely be there next year.”