The Kenyan Safari Rally will return to the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar in just over three weeks after last year’s edition was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The event, which will take place in the picturesque town of Naivasha, Nakuru County, has been re-added to the WRC calendar after an intense campaign led by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Rose Wachuka, Chief of Staff for the Kenyan Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage, speaks during an interview in Nairobi, Kenya. / CGTN / Samson Adeleke
Motorsport Brotherhood members and other stakeholders cheer before the event begins, and according to Rose Wachuka, Chief of Staff for the Department of Sports, Culture and Heritage, it is a “moment of pride” for the East African nation.
Wachuka said that the leadership, organization, government investment and Kenya’s growth as a sports destination, after years of arduous efforts, have all contributed to a successful return to the global scene.
“The rally is steeped in our country’s heritage and it’s just amazing to see it come together, it’s amazing to see it unfold and it’s great to see drivers from all over the world come to Kenya for the first time, for the toughest. “Rally on the planet,” said Wachuka.
A total of 58 drivers have been confirmed for the event, 24 of them foreigners, the most prominent being the Frenchman Sébastien Ogier, who has won seven WRC titles in the last eight seasons.
Other notable foreign names at the rally include 2019 WRC Champion Ott Tanak, Dani Sordo, Thierry Neuville and Pierre-Louis Loubet.
Wachuka, who spoke to CGTN, said the government was ready for the event and required health and safety protocols under COVID-19 regulations and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) were in place.
“There is a resumption of the sports protocols that will govern the WRC. There is a bubble concept and the bubble starts in Nairobi – Kasarani, KICC – and Naivasha and it was all planned, ”Wachuka said.
“All teams received continuous communication. The WRC organizing team has been vaccinated against COVID-19. The Africa Rally Championship (ARC) was the forerunner of the Safari Rally and it was a zero COVID-19 event. “
In addition, she noted, there was infrastructure and strict rules for accessing high and low density areas of the rally.
The choice of event route has also intrigued motorsport enthusiasts, and Wachuka said there were a number of reasons to choose which will make everyone a more enjoyable experience.
“It’s actually more difficult now, but more interesting. The FIA rules have changed, the motorsport arena has changed so we will see a tougher rally with new rules, a great leadership team and a population who will likely see the rally for the first time; So there is novelty. “
The excitement surrounding the famous rally has also lifted the spirits of business owners hard hit by the pandemic, who see the event as a much-needed boost.
Hoteliers like Sammy Mugo, the general manager of Lake Naivasha Panorama Park and Lodge, are also thrilled that the tourist town is getting a much-needed boost amid a difficult time due to the pandemic.
Government-imposed measures such as a ban on the sale of alcohol, restrictions on the operation of restaurants and restaurants, a night curfew and partial lockdowns have hit the city’s once vibrant tourism sector very hard.
“The economic strengthening that we will achieve in Naivasha will go far. We are happy that the government brought the rally back and that will go a long way for the whole year and years to come, ”said Mugo.
Mugo told CGTN that the benefits of the rally for the tourism industry went well beyond the influx of money and booked hotel rooms.
“We benefited from a lot of infrastructure in Naivasha. Some streets were re-carpeted; There is a pavilion building, which for Naivasha is a very noble infrastructure. We have a new service park that has been built from scratch and this is the infrastructure that will stay in Naivasha, ”he said.