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WRC Stars of the WRC set to lock horns at the Safari Rally


MEDIA INFORMATION
For immediate release
Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021

WRC STARS SET TO LOCK HORNS AT THE SAFARI

NAIROBI (KENYA): The world’s leading rally stars will lock horns at this weekend’s Safari Rally Kenya, the most famous rally in the world returning to the FIA World Rally Championship calendar for the first time since 2002.

The last time the Safari graced the WRC was the year that nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb recorded his first event win in Germany. The Frenchman went on to win 78 further rallies in a long and illustrious career, only to be replaced at the helm of the WRC by the defending and seven-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier.

Ogier only hit the WRC spotlight after his debut in 2008 in Mexico and is now one of the most experienced of the leading drivers, alongside Spaniard Dani Sordo and team-mate Elfyn Evans.

The Kenyan event is new to all the Priority 1 drivers and Ogier faces the unenviable task of opening the road on Friday, courtesy of his performance in Sardinia and his 11-point series lead over Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Evans.

The rigours and demands of the special stages will offer a fresh challenge to all the teams, with rocky and arid terrain set to test man and machine to the limit and unpredictable weather conditions adding to the perils and uncertainties. Testing is prohibited outside Europe and Toyota used a recent Spanish shakedown to best prepare for the African debut of the Yaris WRC.

Ogier has claimed three wins so far this season in Monte-Carlo, Croatia and Sardinia and showed on the last event that it is possible to win from running first on the road.

The Frenchman said: “I am always excited to discover a new challenge in my career and I believe this rally will be very different from anything I have done before. We’ve heard a lot and are going to set our targets a little differently. The way we drive nowadays in the WRC is by pushing the limits all of the time, but Kenya will be much more about trying to survive the rally without trouble.”

Outright speed may not be a wise strategy on the Safari – a high rate of attrition has always been prevalent on the East African classic – and a cautious and sensible approach may pay dividends at the end of the three days and 18 special stages.

Evans added: “Kenya is a big unknown as none of the current drivers have been here to do an event before. I suspect it’s not going to be the smoothest event on the calendar and it could be a big test for the car and the crew as well.”

While Ogier and Evans are likely to spearhead the Toyota challenge in Masai country, Takamoto Kasuta has taken three sixth places and a pair of fourths this season and could well challenge for his first podium. The dream would be to follow in the footsteps of Yoshio Fujimoto, the only ever Japanese Safari winner way back in 1995 in a Toyota Celica Turbo.

Finland’s Kalle Rovanperä is also due a good result after starting the season strongly in France and Finland and then suffering two catastrophic displays in Portugal and Sardinia.

The Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team trails Toyota by 49 points in the Manufacturers’ Championship and needs to stem the flow of points before the dam bursts completely. The team tested in southern Portugal a few weeks ago to prepare as best they could for Kenya.

Thierry Neuville has been the WRC bridesmaid on too many occasions and currently trails Ogier by 29 points. He has four third places and a disappointing outing in Portugal under his belt this season, but has shown the i20 to be a very competitive car from the outset and badly needs to win the Safari to reduce the points’ deficit.

Neuville said: “I think everyone is excited to have the Safari on the calendar. I have heard stories from drivers who had the chance to come here in the past. It will be a different experience for us, as the rallying has evolved over time. I don’t know what is waiting for us, but I hope to come back with a big trophy. We’ll be seeing zebras, giraffes and elephants. It is going to be fun!”

Team-mate Ott Tänak has also suffered his fair share of cruel luck this season. The 2019 World Rally Champion crashed out of the Monte-Carlo Rally and then followed that setback with a win in the Arctic Rally and fourth in Croatia. But, like Rovanperä, the Estonian had cruel luck in Portugal and Sardinia and came away from those European gravel rallies with just Power Stage bonus points to his name. He is 57 points adrift of Ogier after five rallies.

Tänak said: “Safari Rally Kenya is a new event for me and Africa is a place I have never been. I have seen some footage from previous rallies. It is one of those events where, to finish first, first you have to finish. It seems to be a wild, wild place.”

Spaniard Dani Sordo is the most experienced driver in the WRC field in Kenya and he again gets his hands on the third Hyundai. Fifth in Monte-Carlo and runner-up in Portugal, Sordo has the pace and guile to win the Safari and follow in the footsteps of the legendary Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who claimed the top step of the podium in 1992.

The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team has endured mixed fortunes this season, with the performances of Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux the highlights of five events that have only earned 82 points in the Manufacturers’ standings. Ford won the last Safari Rally to be a round of the WRC, albeit 19 years ago, in 2002.

A fresh focus for Greensmith and a new co-driver in Ulster veteran Chris Patterson saw the Briton set several top four stage times in Portugal and a fine fifth place. He may well need to curb some of his natural aggression in Kenya to survive some of the most demanding terrain on the planet.

Fourmaux will also be driving on an African rally for the first time. He is two points behind his Blue Oval team-mate and holds 10th in the Drivers’ Championship.

“The event is going to be very different from the last one,” said M-Sport team principal Richard Millener. “We are going to take a sensible approach. We had an electrical issue (Greensmith’s car) in Sardinia but we’re on that now and it won’t happen again. Otherwise we know we have a strong car.”

Young Oliver Solberg replaces Pierre-Louis Loubet in the Hyundai 2C Competition i20, while Lorenzo Bertelli of Italy wheels out a third M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC.

Wednesday

Tomorrow morning competitors complete their stage reconnaissance before the shakedown takes centre stage from 13.01hrs through to 15.00hrs for P1 drivers.

The Loldia shakedown test of 5.4km is situated around 30km from the service park and continues through until 17.30hrs, with several drivers attending the FIA pre-event press conference via Zoom, starting at 16.00hrs (15.00 CET).

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers – positions after round 5:
1. Sébastien Ogier (FRA) 106pts
2. Elfyn Evans (GBR) 95pts
3. Thierry Neuville (BEL) 77pts
4. Ott Tänak (EST) 49pts
5. Takamoto Katsuta (JPN) 48pts
6. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN) 44pts
7. Dani Sordo (ESP 30pts
8. Craig Breen (IRL) 24pts
9. Gus Greensmith (GBR) 22pts
10. Adrien Fourmaux (FRA) 20pts

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers – positions after round 5:
1. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 231pts
2. Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 182pts
3. M-Sport Ford WRT 82pts
4. Hyundai 2C Competition 28pts

Ends

For further media information:
Elias Makori, National Press Officer, E-mail: elias@safarirally.co.ke
www.wrc.com
www.safarirally.co.ke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Date issued: 22/06/2021

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