10 Points to Know About Safari Rally Kenya – In Kenya, ask anyone above the age of 40 years what his or her favorite childhood memory was and the Safari Rally subject will begin. By then, the country would be united over the Easter festivity period as heroes and legends were born during the tough cross-country race.

Institutions of learning and businesses would be closed ‘unofficially’ to ensure everyone watched the motorsports spectacle, and if the race happened to pass through your region, the excitement would go through the roof. Names like Joginder Singh, Shekar Mehta, Juha Kankunen, Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae, Tomi Makinen, Patrick Njiru, Ian Duncan, Vic Preston and Bjorn Waldegard are forever remembered for their conquests at the event. 

Rallying is arguably the oldest motorsport in the world. Whether it’s a weekend hobby sport to you or being an international phenomenon, rally roots are far-reaching and have tons of die-hard enthusiasts. The contributions it has made to the car manufacturing industry would not be enjoyed today if it wasn’t for the competitive instinct for speed and the desire to win.

Historically, overseas drivers would find it difficult to win, probably because they lack experience of driving in East African tough road conditions. More often than not, local drivers, have won the rally particularly in its early years, but also since 2003, when the only person to break the Kenyan monopoly on the trophy has been the Zimbabwean driver Conrad Rautenbach in 2007.

In the rally’s history, the most successful driver in the event is the late Shekhar Mehta, who won the rally five times between 1973 and 1982, a record most closely threatened by Carl Tundo, who won in 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2012.

  1. The rally and its history

The Safari Rally began in 1953 as the East African Coronation Rally in honor of Queen Elizabeth II, who had ascended to the British crown the year before. She’ had been in Kenya as part of her royal tour when she learnt of her father’s death, King George IV.

The inaugural winners were Alan Dix and his navigator Johnny Larsen in a Volkswagen Beetle. The founder of the Safari Rally, Eric Cecil – who was a legendary adventurer having won the Nairobi-Johannesburg Rally in 1946 – won the 1956 race and wanted an event that would push the car and driver to the limits of physical endurance.

The rally became the East African Safari Rally in 1960 after the coronation fever ended and the independence movement gained momentum across Africa. In 1974, it became the Safari Rally after political disagreements within the East African Community. The rally now remains a sole Kenyan affair. Its legendary status grew with more drivers joining and most of them failing to finish the race.

Kenya’s beautiful scenery and wildlife heritage make it a memorable experience with the competition circuit passing through the wilderness, open savannas, tricky gorges and public roads full of wildlife. Vehicles would navigate past the Big 5 and even cattle. Occasionally, rally drivers would be involved in road accidents the notable ones being Juha Kankunnen hitting a cow and Carlos Sainz colliding with an antelope.

This came with some good news as the rally caught the eye of several international drivers and vehicle manufacturers who then flooded into Kenya in the 1960s to be part of one of the most publicized motor sports events in the world. The grueling nature of the rally meant that a win at the Safari Rally was equated with winning 3 or 4 European rallies.

The Safari Rally became a World Rally Championship event in 1973 cementing its legendary status and making it the most popular rally in the motor sports’ calendar. It became a car manufacturer’s marketing avenue and dream as winning it would prove that you had the toughest and best car in the world.

  1. The Return of the Rally

In 2021, the Safari Rally returned to Kenya following a 19-year hiatus. In 2002, the Rally was removed from the World Rally Championship calendar but, following the success of its return, it is due to continue for many more years.

  1. The Origin of the Name

Originally named the ‘Coronation Rally’ in honour of Queen Elizabeth II, the event name was later changed. Since 1974, it has been known as the Safari Rally.

  1. The Rally Reputation

Today, although the Safari Rally still has the status of a World Rally Championship event, its reputation as the world’s toughest rally ensures it attracts a fair quota of professional drivers.

Every year in the month of June and for three days, some of the world’s finest rally drivers converge on Kenya to face the multiple challenges of mud, fatigue and diabolical roads in one of the world’s greatest motor sporting events: the Safari Rally. On the trails of the rally crews come top mechanics, team managers, journalists, photographers and spectators who cannot resist the event’s magic.

  1. The Toughest Rally in the World

Every Easter Kenya would be at centre stage for arguably the toughest rally in the world: The Safari Rally. This became a testing ground for reliability in production cars, as most times 90% of the entrants would not make it to the finish ramp. 

  1. The Rally and Tourism

For Kenya to convince the FIA that it was ready to host the event the event FIA looked at the routes, which were scenic and challenging with a power stage at the Hell’s Gate National Park, which is absolutely stunning with it to die for volcanic plugs.

The Safari Rally adventurously and scenically designed route will launches in the heart of the capital city, Nairobi, and continue to the southern shore of the beautiful Lake Naivasha. Chui Lodge and Oserian, both in the Oserengoni Wildlife Conservancy Estate which is home to giraffes, zebras, lions, leopards, giraffes, antelope and buffalo.

From Lake Naivasha, a stretch further north to Lake Elmenteita hosts the next stage opening with Elmenteita’s tracks in the Delamere Estate, followed by Soysambu and Sleeping Warrior section, set in the shadow of a hill that resembles a Masai warrior lying down.

On the grand finale, the rally spans both the north and south sides of Lake Naivasha. The forested Loldia to the north and Hell’s Gate where the rally ends embraced by thousands of spectators and Masai dancers.

The Safari Rally is a heritage event for Kenya and is a major income-generating activity. It is believed that about USD 50 million is directly pumped into the country’s economy and additionally, viewed by millions of people across the globe making it a huge marketing event for Kenya. It is a huge statement why Kenya is optimally positioned as a tourist destination.

  1. The Distance

The rally route varies from year to year and averages 3,000 to 4,000 kilometres in distance. Initially, the rally used to start in Kenya, passed through Tanzania and Uganda and came back into Kenya to finish in Nairobi. After 1974, the rally was staged within the borders of Kenya. However, the gruelling nature of this rally was not tamed at all; it was just as challenging for both car and driver.

  1. The Rally and Easter Holidays

The Safari Rally has been confirmed as the third round of the 2024 World Rally Championship (WRC) and reverts to its original traditional Easter holidays weekend date for the first time in 27 years.
The Safari will be held between March 28-31 in Nairobi and Naivasha, according to the calendar which was released today by the Federation Internationale de I’ Automobile (FIA) World Motorsports Council today . The 13 rounds championship will also feature Poland and Latvia.
“This is very good Mashujaa Day announcement news and a celebration for all Kenyans as we retrace the Safari Rally journey of 70 years ago when millions of Kenyans looked forward to the Easter weekend every year to enjoy the thrills of the Safari Rally,” said the WRC Safari Rally CEO Phineas

  1. The Rainy Season

The annual event was held right in the middle of the rainy season in Kenya. Drivers had to navigate through swelling rivers, flooded roads, black-cotton covered trails, as torrential rain pounded down. Rain and mud not only claimed the vast majority of cars lost in the Safari Rally, but also the lives of some drivers and spectators.

Some years the route would be dry allowing lots of teams to finish. On the other hand, some years would see terrible flooding, so much so that stages had to be re-routed or cancelled outright. Drivers would sometimes have to fight it out for hours over a section that would otherwise have taken just a few minutes.

  1. Safari Rally Legends

Some of the world’s greatest drivers would come together for the Safari Rally. The first Safari Rally – or “Coronation Rally” – was won by Allan Dix and Johnny Larsen in a VW Beetle. Later, more local drivers would show off their skills and go on to become Kenyan legends.

‘The Unsinkable Seven’ was the nickname given to the drivers and co-drivers of the seven out of eighty-four cars that made it to the finish line of the 1963 Rally. This was the first time that the Rally was included as a qualifying round for the RAC World Rally Championship. One of the drivers was Joginder Singh, known as the ‘Flying Sikh’, as he was the first man to win the Safari Rally three times and the first Sikh driver ever to win an international rally.

Entrust our experts to plan, book your accommodation and help you with execution of your Safari Rally Experience.

Oluokos Signature team will be of great help to you. Make timely arrangements with us every year for the last weekend of  April Safari Rally.  

Engage us to plan your accommodation, transport with 4×4 land cruiser so you can maneuver in the nature conservancies with the help of our professional driver guides who know the defined route very well

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