MOTORSPORT NEWS Rally

Rising interest of rally drivers boosts WRC hosting chances

On the first weekend of July, Kenya will be hosting a World Rally Championship (WRC) candidate rally with the noble objective of returning to the global circuit by 2020.Safari was dropped from the WRC calendar in October 2002 after the government failed to meet some necessary guarantees demanded by the Global Body, FIA. The Safari served as a round of the WRC from 1973 to 2002, but was relegated to ARC status, to the chagrin of local rally lovers. Now Kenya’s candidature, which could see the iconic Safari return to the FIA global calendar, is already eliciting interest among global top drivers.

Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo and Tim Jessop celebrate after winning a past KNRC race

FIA’s Michelle Mouton is expected in the country early next year to inspect three blocks of the 2019 route in Naivasha and Kajiado. The WRC Safari Project, a three-year initiative being funded by the government to the tune of Sh300 million, could see the world-beating speed merchants descend on the historic but energy-sapping Safari terrain.

One of them is former M-Sport driver Mads Østberg, who has expressed interest in driving in the 2019 Safari Rally. Østberg won the 2012 Portugal Rally when driving an M-sport Ford Fiesta WRC, and scored many final podium finishes. He also won the Norwegian NRC title three times: in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Østberg is now searching for a contract with an official team in the WRC.

“Flying Finn” Tapio Laulkanen, a former Kenya, Britain and Finland rally champion, was back racing in the Mini Classic Safari in Kabras’ Porsche 911.

Mark Tufte, one of the biggest rally-sport social promoters, said: “When I saw Tapio return to Kenya, I asked Mads Østberg if he’s interested in racing the Safari Rally 2019 in July. He replied he’s really interested. I linked him to Kabras staff but they couldn’t come to an agreement due to some logistical issues. There’s still some options.”

A few days ago, Mark Tufte, the admin of Make Roads Safe, posted on social media: “An active WRC driver interested in racing the Safari Rally. Hope a deal can be sealed. Fingers crossed #Safari2Wrc” Quickly, the rumour spread that the driver is Mads Østberg. To make it clear, we asked Mark Tufte himself: “That’s not wrong, I can say Mads Østberg was about to enter the Safari Rally 2019 in July. As we’re both from Norway, it was easier for me to ask him if he would be interested to do the Safari,” he said.

Mads-Ostberg-Ola-Floene

“The idea came to me when he announced that he will do the Otago Rally in New Zealand in 2019. It was his first confirmed event as he lost his seat at Citroen Racing. I approached him and told him the Safari could be the second one. Østberg has immediately shown a great interest in the race. Then I linked him to the people who could make it happen. Even when he was dealing his contract in Rallycross with Skoda, he got back to me many times to ask about the Safari Rally. Unfortunately, they couldn’t come to an agreement.

“Nevertheless, I haven’t lost hope: There’s still some options. Personally I’m convinced that hosting a top driver like Mads is a great opportunity for African teams and events. It has a great PR and ROI values. The Google search about the Otago Rally has significantly increased after Mads announced he’ll do it. You know many events in Europe or Asia try hard to attract big boys but they can’t manage it.”

Tufte added, “Since we created Rallying in Africa in 2013, we’re always aiming to bring back the WRC in Africa. We have some great events. The Safari, of course, but also the Rallye Bandama in Ivory Coast or the York Ralky in South Africa, which are rounds of the FIA African Rally Championship (ARC).”

Phineas Kimathi, CEO of the Kasarani Stadium-based project, announced that some top world drivers are keen on recceing the Safari route, as the date next year doesn’t clash with a WRC event.

DIMINISHING ENTRIES

Although entries for the Kenya National Rally Championship were few and far between, the entertainment aspect was never wanting more so with the introduction of the B13 formula.

Event entries and spectator fervour continued to diminish but not speed which has been the order of the day when Tapio joined the KNRC.

FLASH RULES KNRC

Six wins, a season double, equalling Safari record, four career KNRCs crowned Carl “Flash” Tundo’s most successful season.

Carl and Manvir Baryan were the most decorated Kenyan drivers as the “fast and furious’ 2018 rallying season came to a dramatic end.

Manvir, driving a Skoda Fabia R5 and navigated by his British partner Drew Sturrock, swept the ground with all his continental race adversaries to clinch back-to-back FIA African Rally Championship (ARC) titles. After an excruciating exit on the 2018 Safari, Manvir who was fighting for the title with compatriot Piero Cannobio won four rallies in a row in Zambia, Uganda, South Africa and Tanzania before skipping the season closing Mountain Gorilla Rally of Rwanda.

MANVIR BREAKS THE DUCK

And Manvir entered his name in the annals of rallying artistry for being the first non-South African to win its ARC round better known as the York Rally (formerly Sasol Rally).

Manvir also became the first Kenyan driver to win back to back ARC titles, and indeed two continental titles.

SHEKHAR’S RECORD EQUALLED

Back home, Tundo was the talk of town with six wins under his belt on the eight leg KNRC. Tundo equalled the longstanding Shekhar Mehta’s record of five Safari wins which was no mean achievement.

Mehta’s five wins were achieved during WRC days while Tundo attained his in the ARC era. Tundo’s majestic march to the KNRC summit was not without drama though. He hit a wildbeast on KMSC Rally but surprisingly racked up his third win of the season.

In the wake of the wildbeast drama, Tundo had this to say: “I’m super happy, but upset that Baldev Chager couldn’t finish after leading most of the rally.”

Despite hitting a wildebeest and damaging the front left of his Top Fry Mitsubishi Evolution 10, Carl “Flash” Tundo savoured an emphatic hat-trick of wins when the dust settled. After a rather frustrating outing in Mombasa, which saw the five-time Safari champion settle for third position, Tundo was peerless in Nanyuki. Nanyuki went down as Carl’s fourth win of the season after RSC Rally, ARC Safari and KMSC Rally.

Carl and his partner Tim Jessop sealed the 2018 KNRC on winning their fifth event at the Kabras Eldoret Rally where he snatched victory by a mere three seconds from under the nose of Baldev Chager in the last competitive stage after playing second-fiddle for most of the rally.

‘’I am surprised we beat Chager in the final section of Eldoret rally. He had beaten us badly in the previous stages. We thought of just trying harder in the final section to try and beat him but we were shocked it was finally done by a mere three seconds,’’ said Jessop.

Former National Rally champion Baldev Charger was alongside teammate Tundo the fastest drivers in the 2018 season. Chager won the 6th round in the coast when he ended his winless streak to beat Tundo. Despite finishing third in Kilifi, Tundo still enjoyed top of the table with 118 points.

Source: The Star, Kenya