Dust, mud, rocks, rain - let the Easter Safari blast off!

Thursday March 28 2024
Belgium’s Thierry Neuville navigated by Martjin Wydaeghe

Belgium’s Thierry Neuville navigated by Martjin Wydaeghe racing on a Hyundai i20 race at Loldia stage during WRC Safari Rally shakedown at Naivasha, Kenya on March 27, 2024. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


There are three common denominators in the 2024 WRC Safari Rally -- terrain, rain and tyres -- which will determine the outcome of this year’s race.

Toyota Gazoo Racing has been the dominant team since 2021 and world champion Kalle Rovanpera demonstrated their intentions of denying the rest top laurels once again after pipping championship leader Thierry Neuville of Hyundai by the smallest of margins at the Ndulele Conservancy Shakedown stage on Wednesday.

The terrain has never been worse following current rains and the damage left by last year’s deluge.

Some sections are porous, others waterlogged and others dominated by rocks exposed after the topsoil was rained off.

Read: Safari Rally lives up to its billing as tough, unforgiving race

Swedish Rally 2 driver Oliver Solberg realised just how hard the surface is after clipping an embankment and severely damaging his car.


All drivers agree that this is a very tricky Safari, challenging and in-store for them “jeopardy”, as Neuville summed it.

Rain or hard surface, the FIA WRC tyres supplier Pirelli will be tested to the limit. The company is providing its Scorpion KX tyres in soft and hard compounds to all Rally1 cars for damp and dry weather conditions.

The company faces a tough test reminiscent to the 1998 Safari when the air was raptured by exploding tyres.

Competition-wise, it is Championships leader Neuville and second-placed Elfyn Evans versus the rest of the field.

The return of world champion Kalle Rovanpera could either complicate matters or throw the championship wide open.

This means stopping Neuville, who has 48 points, three more than second-placed Evans.

The margins at Ndulele demonstrated an evenly matched field which can never remain the same if it rains, and it has been pouring heavily in some parts of Naivasha and Gilgil. 

Read: 70 years later, Safari still world’s toughest rally

Cars will be flagged off from Kenyatta International Convention Centre starting at 12.26pm and head to Kasrarani for the Super Special Stage.

Racing will take place over 367.76 kilometres on 19 stages on routes largely unchanged from last year’s.

Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team start as favourites after winning in Monte Carlo and Sweden as they look for their first ever Safari win. 

Hyundai were latecomers in the old WRC Safari. Juha Kankkunen gave them an eighth place in the 2002 edition as a fully-fledged works team.

Neuville, who showed prospects of winning the 2021 edition before a mechanical breakdown did him in, remains favourite and is teamed up with Ott Tänak, the 2019 world champion, and Esapekka Lappi, the winner of Rally Sweden last month.

They will hope the drive shaft problems which dogged them last year will not recur, as Lappi said last week.

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team dominated the Safari in the 1990s and early 2000 but they have been unlucky so far in the re-birthed Safari Rally.

Youngster Adrien Fourmaux, who finished third is Sweden, and is now flying M-Pesa colours on his Ford Puma Hybrid R1, will be looking for a good result. 

He will be supported by Gregoire Munster and Jourdan Serderidis.

Toyota are looking for a fourth straight podium domination.