With nine former champions, 10 foreign drivers and tens of Kenyan drivers eying the big prize, this year’s KCB Safari Rally, which starts on Friday, promises to be one of the toughest and most challenging in recent times.
Off the ramp first will be Africa rally champion Jamie Whyte who is navigated by Phil Archenoul, both from Zimbabwe, in a Subaru Impreza N10.
They will be followed closely by 2007 winner Conrad Rautenbach and Nicolas Klinger in a Ford Fiesta S2000.
The Rwandan crew of Christakis Fitidis and Guy Dekelver will be third in a Subaru Impreza N9.
The seeding has been done based on the speed of the drivers in previous rallies.
However, that will not hold water if the history of the competition is anything to go by as Kenyan teams, starting with national champion Alastair Cavenagh and his navigator Gavin Laurence, seek a podium finish in their Mitsubishi Evo9.
Throw in another speed master, Carl Tundo, and his trusted friend, Tim Jessop (Mitsubishi Evio9), veteran Ian Duncan and Amaar Slatch (Mitsubishi Evo9) and Peter Horsey, who has Piers Daykin as his co-driver, in another Mitsubishi Evo9, and it certainly gets toxic.
But there will also be veteran Azar Anwar eying to prove his critics that even at 57, he should never be ruled out.
Azar has finished working on his Mitsubishi Evo8 and will be seated with co-driver Julius Ngigi waiting to pounce for his third Safari title.
“Rule me out at your own peril. I’m not entering this rally to lose, but to win and although speed counts in the Safari Rally, I have to say that with the conditions and the rains, I have an upper hand,” he said.
Present during the official launch of the rally in Nairobi yesterday were the all-lady crew of driver Joan Nesbitt and Tamara Jones who will be reading the notes.
“We have since leant the game and will be keen for a podium finish. After three rounds, the nerves are relaxed and we can take anything that will be thrown at us. This will be a navigator’s rally,” said Jones.
But unlike previous competitions, crews in this weekend’s rally will be compelled to provide blood samples in line with the new FIA “Race True” anti-doping campaign.
All competitors have already been issued with a copy of the FIA anti-doping list with clear guidelines indicating prohibited substances.
Surinder Thatthi, the FIA representative in Kenya, said the global motorsports body is running the anti-doping campaign and will test drivers in the African Rally Championship events which Safari Rally is part of.
“This is an exercise similar to what track athletes and Tour de France cyclists go through,” said Thatthi, who hinted that the random checks may as well happen during the Safari or any other ARC event.
He said there will be severe consequences for whoever fails the test. “The guidelines include certain medication that the crews must not consume.”
This year’s rally will have three spectator points for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Friday, the fans can catch the action at the Jamhuri Park from 1:45pm.
The second spectator point on Saturday will be based at the Kenya Marble Quarries road.