The Kenyan Government has earmarked a budget of close to £2 millon to ensure the Safari Rally returns to the World Rally Championship by 2020.
The Safari Rally hasn’t run as a round of the WRC since 2002, but FIA president Jean Todt – who is understood to have discussed the potential for a Safari return with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta three years ago – has always made plain his desire to see Africa as part of a more global world championship.
A new event is expected to be run in Kenya this year, reestablishing the necessary organisational structure out of Nairobi. Before that, offices of the new WRC Safari Rally Project are being readied in the capital city.
Kenya’s cabinet secretary for sport Hassan Wario said: “Following the sanctioning of the Safari Rally as a premier continental rally by the FIA to be held in Kenya in 2018, and with a nod by [from] the FIA to set up the WRC Safari Rally Project organisational structures with the hope of achieving full WRC [status] by 2020.”
Wario was instrumental in garnering the support of president Kenyatta in the nation’s bid to bring world rallying back to Africa.
Kenyan newspaper the Daily Nation reported the government’s budget of £1.8m, which was expected to be allocated last month – within that is the WRC Promoter payment, reported to be in the region of £570,000. Initial estimates reckon the investment required to land a WRC round would return more than £500m in Kenya’s global visibility and tourism.
The Kenyan bid has been further boosted by the news that neighbouring Uganda is also supporting the effort, with Motorsport Uganda chairman Dusman Okee talking the plans through with WRC Promoter’s Oliver Ciesla late last year.
The Safari Rally isn’t just high on Todt’s WRC wishlist, but also for WRC Promoter and the manufacturers. The teams will, however, be keen to avoid the costs associated with competing in Kenya through the 1980s and Nineties, when multi-million-pound budgets had to be set aside, along with months of testing, to build a specific Safari car.
For the promoter, the appeal of returning to some of the most epic and inspiring backdrops in motorsport is enough to bring them to talks with the WRC Safari Rally Project.
Ciesla said: “We recognise the Safari’s long and proud history in the FIA World Rally Championship and the place it holds in the hearts of Kenya’s population. We welcome the sincere passion and the strong efforts and commitment which the country’s government and the Kenya Motorsports Federation is injecting into the project of returning the WRC to Africa.
“We are committed to hosting a WRC round on the African continent in the near future and will continue to work closely alongside the government and federation with the goal of seeing the Safari Rally back on the WRC calendar.”
Canada also in frame
Canada has emerged with a potential candidate winter round of the World Rally Championship.
Canada was one of the countries talked about as a potential replacement for Sweden when Karlstad failed to deliver much in the way of winter two years ago. Ironically, news of Canada’s intentions come in a week when Rally Sweden is enjoying its best conditions in years.
Keith Morison, the founding director of Rally Promoter Association of Canada, said: “We started looking at this idea in 2011. Recently things have started coming together and we think this is the right time to put a real effort into making this idea a reality.”
Canada is, however, looking five years into the future to deliver its first WRC qualifier since 1979. The country has hosted four WRC rounds, in 1974 and from 1977-’79.
Morison added: “A WRC event needs the support of all levels of government as well as the development of some meaningful corporate partnerships to be viable. The next year will be spent meeting with a wide range of officials and potential partners to make sure this foundation exists.”