What the 2020 Safari Rally would have been like

The stages would have been shorter than in the past, but just as exciting according to the organizers


It would have been different. And it will be different when it comes around again next year.

So defined are people’s preconceptions of what a Safari Rally should look like, it’s almost impossible to imagine the Kenyan classic escaping the revolution which has swept through the sport of rallying.

Endurance is done. Old news. Asking the world’s fastest drivers to do more than a couple of hundred competitive miles is generally frowned upon. Not by the drivers, or the co-drivers, but by the promoter and, to some extent, the FIA. The promoter feels there’s limited appeal for 50-mile stages among an emerging 60-second attention span generation. Personally, I disagree.

Undoubtedly, WRC Promoter will be able to direct me towards no end of statistics which demonstrate, in black and white, where the drop-off comes in terms of appetite for longer-form running. Still don’t agree.

I still think, correctly packaged, people would consume an old-style Safari with the same relish and gusto with which a day-long race through the middle of France is enjoyed every June. And remind me, whatever happened to that bike race in the same place? You know, the one that went on for weeks with stages that lasted all day?

The Tour de France reaches at least 1.4 billion people who watch it for 20 minutes or more, and that numbers been claimed on occasion to be well over double that.

FF Hellsgate 2

Hell's Gate National Park, where the rally was set to conclude

Do we believe that, give or take, every other person on the planet with access to television coverage was watching the race? Probably not. The point is, the number’s not going to be small. And this is an event that relies on people watching for more than a minute. More, even, than an hour.

I’ve digressed. Let’s leave two wheels and get back to four wheels. Let’s get back to Africa.

Produce and package it right and I’m sure there would still be space for competitive sections measuring well beyond the hour mark.

But that wouldn’t have happened this week. And it won’t happen next year.

Instead, we’ll have snapshots of great sections.

Wales Rally GB clerk of the course Iain Campbell was a consultant on the route for the Safari Rally. He drove – on more than one occasion – the entire route for this year’s Lake Naivasha-based event and was impressed with what he found. Especially on day one’s Kedong test.

“This one was included in the last world championship event in Africa in 2002 and Sébastien Loeb – the only one of the current drivers who has competed on the Safari before – was actually fastest on this section on the second day 18 years ago,” Campbell told DirtFish.

Safari Rally 2019

Photo: Geoff Mayes

“The stage [in 2002] was longer than the 33 kilometers (21 miles) we’re using this time. But we’ve definitely got the best bits.

“The last section of Sleeping Warrior [one of the day two stages] is quite tough, quite hard work bedrock. It’s horrible, but brilliant!

“The organizers have tried really hard to keep the flavour of the Safari and you can really see that in all of the stages. OK, there are some sections where they’ve had to deviate and maybe it’s not exactly the same there, but they have done a fantastic job.

“There are some really pretty rough sections which will force the cars to slow down a fair bit. Then again, I thought that about the candidate event last year, but the cars just kept on with the speed.

“You’re left looking at it thinking: ‘Bugger me! How did they get through that?’

“The modern rally car is a pretty amazing thing that can hit bumps, jumps and rocks pretty hard and barely notice.”

The whole route would have totalled 636 miles, with 198 of those divided between 18 stages.