World Rally Championship rounds don’t get much more exciting than the Safari Rally – particularly as this week’s rally will be the first time every single one of the factory drivers will be starting in Kenya.
But you’d be forgiven for thinking the contest in the WRC’s support classes is a touch less appetizing for the neutral. Instead of the usual burgeoning entry in WRC2 and WRC3 with some of the best international drivers going toe-to-toe on the stages, this week’s sole WRC2 entrant (Martin Prokop) and six WRC3 runners doesn’t really compare.
However, viewing things that way would be missing the true beauty of the Safari Rally. Look down this historic event’s roll of honor and you’ll discover this hasn’t always been a rally where the established stars shine, but rather where new ones can be born.
With that in mind, here’s who we should be looking out for in WRC3 and indeed in the Rally3 class as four of the impressive new M-Sport Poland machines will be out in force in the African wilderness.
Seeded entry list:
|24||Onkar Rai||Drew Sturrock||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|25||Carl Tundo||Tim Jessop||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|26||Tejveer Rai||Gareth Dawe||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5|
|27||Karen Patel||Tauseef Khan||Ford Fiesta R5|
|28||Aakid Virani||Ahzar Bhatti||Škoda Fabia R5|
|29||Daniel Chwist||Kamil Heller||Ford Fiesta Rally2|
The WRC3 class is the perfect platform for established national rallying stars to prove what they can do to the watching rallying world, and in Kenya five of the country’s finest talents will be looking to do just that.
Polish driver Daniel Chwist is the only one of the six starters not to hail from Kenya, and indeed has never rallied in Africa before. But he does have an extremely experienced ace card to draw should he need. More on that later…
In the experience stakes it’s Carl Tundo that tops the pile, as he is one of few drivers on the entry list to have actually started the Safari Rally in the WRC before – and the only of those to enter WRC3 this weekend. He didn’t get his Subaru Impreza to the finish of the event on that occasion, but he has won the Safari Rally an incredible five times – only Shektar Mehta can match that statistic.
Tundo also won the recent Equator Rally, which essentially ran as a warm-up for this week’s event, so he looks a strong bet for success in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
Onkar Rai is the top seed and is a regular podium threat on African rallies, but the same can be said of Rai Tavjeer. He’s been second on the last three rallies he’s started in Kenya.
Karen Patel, Kenya and the Ford Fiesta R5 haven’t always been a marriage made in heaven as from six starts he’s only finished once; but Aakid Virani’s recent record isn’t too much better as he’s failed to finish his last three.
Seeded entry list:
|36||Sobiesław Zasada||Tomasz Borysławski||Ford Fiesta Rally3|
|48||Hamza Anwar||Riyaz Ismail||Ford Fiesta Rally3|
|49||McRae Kimathi||Shameer Ole Yusaf||Ford Fiesta Rally3|
|64||Jeremy Wahone||Victor Okundi||Ford Fiesta Rally3|
So, remember that ace card for Chwist? Step forward his uncle Sobiesław Zasada: the 91-year-old who is poised to become the oldest competitor ever to start a round of the WRC. He’s no stranger to the Safari Rally, but hasn’t competed since 1997.
His entry is undoubtedly the headline-grabber in the RC3 class, but Kenya will be a real test for the Rally3 machine’s strength and durability. Plus, if there’s anywhere where the car is really going to punch above its weight, it’ll be here.
Like in WRC3, Zasada is the Polish interloper in a Kenyan cocktail as all three of his class rivals are locals. However, all three actually can’t compete with Zasada’s experience on the African stages.
Anmar Hamza looks to be the best bet – based on previous form – to top the class though. Fifth place in a Subaru on the Equator Rally demonstrates what he can do, but like his rivals he will be learning the Fiesta Rally3 this week.
McRae Kimahti was no slouch on Equator – eighth, also in an Impreza – but giving a prediction on how former open-wheel racer Jeremy Wahone will fare would be speculative as this week marks his first ever rally start. Not a bad way to dip your toe in!
There were expected to be a strong haul of NR4-spec Subarus and Mitsubishis competing in the WRC section of the event too, but some 15 competitors didn’t comply with pre-event scrutineering and will start the national event instead.