The forthcoming Safari Rally Championship in Naivasha has attracted strong names from around the globe who are gearing up for the June 24-27 competition.
The official list, released by the World Rally Championship (WRC) on Friday has Elfyn Evans who is fresh from winning the WRC Portugal leg.
Evans will be up in arms against world champion Sébastien Ogier who will also be participating under the same Toyota Gazoo brand.
Estonia speed merchant Ott Tanak will lead the Hyundai attack that also has Thierry Neville, considered to be the competition dark horse according to some rally pundit.
Other global manufacturers in the mix are M-Sport Ford team that to be spearheaded by Gus Greensmith whose pace notes will be called by Renaud Jamoul.
Also, Toksport has entered Marco Bulacia to search for their glory.
Back at home, Carl Tundo, fresh from winning the Equator Rally, will be Kenya’s hope in his VW Polo R5.
The Minti Motorsport team member is out to stretch his two Safari wins he recorded before the WRC series left Kenya for 19 years.
Other Kenyan’s in the WRC saddle are Aakif Verani, Tejveer Rai, Karan Patel and Onkar Rai.
They will all compete in the homologated R5 machines.
World champion Ogier will lead the Toyota Gazoo Racing gladiators in the much anticipated major event in the country.
The Frenchman, whose pace-notes will be called out by compatriot Julien Ingrassia is hungry for an eighth title which he wants to accomplish in a Yaris brand.
“The Toyota Yaris is a car for the super-boys, it’s a masterpiece of Japanese engineering,” WRC Safari Rally CEO Phineas Kimathi noted when the machine, to be steered by Ogier at the gruelling Safari, was unveiled in Kenya last week.
To make his intention known, Ogier has already won two legs of the 2021 WRC; the Rallye Monte Carlo and the Croatia Rally.
Ogier is also out for an eighth WRC Driver’s Championship title following his victories in the category in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020.
The 38-year old also has 51 wins in the WRC and seven titles of which six are consecutive wins.
The feats place him as the second most successful WRC driver, after former Citroën WRC teammate Sébastien Loeb (nine titles).
Other drivers in the star-studded Toyota mix are Elfyin Evans of Wales to be navigated by Scott Martin of the United Kingdom, Kalle Rovanpera of Finland to be assisted by compatriot Jonne Halttunen and Katsuta Takamoto of Japan who will be guided by Dan Barritt of Great Britain behind the wheel.
Rovanpera is son of Hari Rovanpera, who finished second in the last WRC Safari in 2002.
The Toyota lineup comes just days after South Korean manufacturer Hyundai announced their list for the Safari.
The Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team (i20) will be spearheaded by Estonian speed merchant Tanak.
Tanak, who won his WRC maiden title in 2019 has gone toe to toe with Ogier this season.
He has already won the second leg of the 2021 WRC in Finland.
Other drivers in the Hyundai mix are Thierry Neuville of Belgium to be navigated by Martijn Wydaeghe and Dani Sordo of Spain whose pace notes will be read by Borja Rozada.
Rally purists believe the rocky Sleeping Warrior stage in Naivasha will determine who goes home with the Safari title.
From the ARC championship held at the venue last month, it was evident that anyone who wanted to conquer the tough, muddy, rocky terrains needed considerable time to focus before launching the ferocious attack like a lion.
Arguably, many local fans will throw their weight behind Ogier since Kenya is a Toyota nation, owing to the availability of the brand spare parts.
Local drivers including Carl Tundo, Onkar Rai, Tejveer Rai and Karan Patel are expected to give the global drivers a run for their money if not the bragging rights.
Key Dates for the WRC Safari
Opening of the Service Park for Teams, Naivasha KWS Institute
Reconnaissance Day 1
-Reconnaissance Day 2
-Scrutineering /component sealing for WRC2, WRC3 & N on Priority Drivers
-Publishing of Shakedown Start List
-Safari Welcome Cocktail- All drivers compulsory
-Reconnaissance Day 3
-Shakedown for all Priority and Non Priority Drivers-Loldia (5.4km)
-FIA Pre event press conference
-Presidential and VIP Speeches at KICC
-Super Special Stage SSS 1 at Kasarani (Section 1)
-SECTIONS 1&2 /2&3 (Chui Lodge 1&2, Kedong 1&2, Oserian 1&2)
-Opening of media centre Service Park Naivasha
-Publication of start list for Section 4
-SECTIONS 4&5 -Service Park Naivasha (Elementaita 1&2, Soysambu 1&2 and Sleeping Warrior 1&2)
-Publication of start list for Section 6
– SECTION 6-Loldia 1 & Hell’s Gate 1
-SECTION 7-Malewa, Loldia 2
-SECTION 8- Hell’s Gate 2 (Wolf Power Stage)
-Finish Podium Ceremony