Where were the current WRC drivers when the last Safari happened?

The return to Kenya in 2021 comes 19 years after the WRC's last visit to Africa


The third year of the current millennium meant a second film from Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings. Kelly Clarkson won the inaugural American Idol contest, while George W watched on from the White House. And, of course, the Safari Rally ran for the final time in the World Rally Championship in July 2002.

That all changed earlier today as Sébastien Ogier won the opening superspecial test, but where were the current crop when Colin McRae won the last event in a Ford Focus RS WRC? What were they up to 19 years ago?

As a bit of fun, DirtFish has brought you the answers.

Sébastien Ogier

Then: 18
Now: 37


Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

The Gap superstar was still four years away from stepping aboard a rally car for the first time and was, in all honesty, probably still harboring ambitions to follow his hero Ayrton Senna into racing. The most successful driver in the history of the Monte Carlo Rally was already showing his prowess in the mountains, however, working as a ski instructor.

Elfyn Evans

Then: 13
Now: 32

With four wheels still something of a dream, a teenage Elfyn would have been tearing it up on two. Trials bikes or any kind of motorbike would have been where you would have found the current Toyota driver. And when he wasn’t doing that, he would have been following his father Gwyndaf’s WRC program with MG. Interestingly, the man co-driving Evans Sr in the MG ZR in both the World and British Rally Championship  was Gus Greensmith’s navigator, Chris Patterson.

Thierry Neuville

Then: 13
Now: 33


Photo: Hyundai Motorsport

With his own rallying debut still five years away, a young Neuville would have been lamenting a failed clutch on Freddy Loix’s Hyundai Accent WRC at the 2002 Safari Rally. Back in those days, when retirement really did mean retirement, such a transmission glitch put the Belgian out of the rally for good.

Takamoto Katsuta

Then: 9
Now: 28

Taka’s father Norihiko was busy competing in a Subaru Impreza in 2002, so the current Toyota driver would, no doubt, have been following his progress closely. Katsuta Jr was also bound for some early circuit racing, however, so track action would have been getting closer. Taka’s co-driver Dan Barritt has a couple more miles on the clock – he’d just started his first professional season, navigating David Higgins in the American championship 19 years ago.

Kalle Rovanperä

Then: 1
Now: 20

Rovanpera act fre 52

Actually, Harri’s boy was 20 months old – that makes him sound much older than one. Unsurprisingly, Kalle can’t remember the 2002 Safari. No doubt he would have been busy pushing a model car around the living room floor of the family Finnish home in July 2002. Which model? A Peugeot 206 WRC, most likely. In silver. With #3 on the side. That would be the car his father drove to second place last time the WRC was in Africa…

Dani Sordo

Then: 19
Now: 38 

Of the factory drivers lining up this week, the likeable Spaniard was the closest to a World Rally Championship debut in 2002. Busy with Spanish national rallying in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI, he would tackle his first world championship counter – Rally Spain – in 2003.

Gus Greensmith

Then: 6
Now: 24


Photo: M-Sport

Without a major family influence in rallying, it’s unlikely a six-year-old Gus would have been glued to his M-Sport forerunner Colin McRae’s every move. But engines were an obvious fascination and karting success wasn’t far away. Most likely, this time 19 years ago, he would have been wearing a Peter Schmeichel Manchester City shirt. After eight years at Manchester United, the Danish keeper crossed to the blue side of the city for his final season. Greensmith could well have followed in his footsteps, with a trial to play between the sticks for the club.

Adrien Fourmaux

Then: 7
Now: 26

As much as he would have been watching his rally heroes rocket across Africa 19 years ago, the young Frenchman was clearly hitting the books hard at school. As a very-nearly qualified doctor, Fourmaux is one of the current drivers who took the books as seriously as he takes his rally preparation today.

Oliver Solberg

Then: 8 months
Now: 19


Photo: Hyundai Motorsport

Eight months. Eight and a half months, to be precise. Hmm… like Kalle, it’s a fair assumption he doesn’t remember his father’s turbo-related retirement from the 2002 Safari Rally. One thing’s for sure: his romper suit of choice in July 2002 would have been Subaru blue and rarely in one place for more than a nanosecond. Rapid at eight months, Hyundai Motorsport’s teenage hotshot has been getting quicker ever since.

Lorenzo Bertelli

Then: 14
Now: 31

A northern Italian upbringing meant a life lived among the glories of Lancia and Fiat and no doubt they would have provided a significant influence on Lorenzo’s early years. Also very fair to say he’s likely to have been the best-dressed dude in school, given the family business. The family business is fashion – fashion like… owning Prada.

What were you up to in July 2002? Share with us in the comments box below.

Photography:McKlein Image Database, Toyota Gazoo Racing, Hyundai Motorsport, M-Sport

Words:David Evans