Hyundai Motorsport embarks on an exciting adventure this week as the FIA World Rally Championship returns to Africa for the first time since 2002, and a unique challenge because none of Hyundai’s three crews is familiar with the rough gravel roads of Kenya.
The Safari Rally Kenya will be the sixth round of the 2021 season and is set to be one of the most spectacular. Known for its stunning scenery, local wildlife and punishing roads, the event will offer a fresh challenge to Hyundai’s Alzenau-based squad.
Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe, who scored their fourth podium finish of the year in Sardinia in the previous round, will be out to add more trophies to their collection. Two crews who left the last round frustrated, Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja and Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada, will complete the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team line-up in the Naivasha-based rally.
All three crews tested in the south of Portugal in preparation for the Safari Rally, but their first taste of the rocky gravel roads would be in the recce. The immediate challenge will be to create pace notes from scratch ahead of the 18-stage rally, which covers a competitive distance of 320 km.
This year’s running will retain the character of the legendary Safari of old with unpredictability and rough, rugged terrain set to put drivers, co-drivers and teams through an unprecedented test. For Hyundai Motorsport, whose Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC has set an impressive pace in recent gravel events, the focus will be on scoring a representative result.
As the 2021 championship approaches its halfway point, the team will aim to reduce the 49-point gap to the manufacturers’ leaders – knowing that the Safari Rally will be anything but predictable.
“We head to Kenya knowing that we have to deliver. We also know that it will be far from a straightforward weekend,” said team principal Andrea Adamo. “The Safari Rally is an iconic event in the World Rally Championship, and it will be a pleasure for Hyundai Motorsport to compete in our first WRC round in Africa.
“The stages are going to be demanding and unknown to our crews, so there is a lot of preparation work before we even reach the opening stage. We have seen the pace of our cars on gravel recently, but we have not achieved the desired results. The objective is a strong team result and to re-energise our championship campaign.”
Crew notes – Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe:
“I think everyone is excited to have the Safari Rally on the calendar. I have heard stories from drivers who have gone there in the past and who have described the adventure,” said Neuville. “It will be a different experience for us, as rallying has evolved. I don’t know what is waiting for us, but I hope to come back with a big trophy. We’ll be seeing zebras, elephants and giraffes; it is going to be fun!”
Crew notes – Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja:
For the Estonian crew, who have experienced two tough rallies in a row as they had to retire after leading, it will be their first visit to the Safari Rally Kenya with a chance to reclaim lost ground in the title fight.
“Safari Rally Kenya is a new event for me, and Africa is a place where I’ve never been. I am looking forward to it, although I expect it to be a bit of an adventure,” said Tänak. “I have seen some footage from previous rallies; it is one of those events where to finish first, you first have to finish. It seems to be a wild, wild place, and it will be different to anything else on the calendar, something special.”
Crew note – Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada:
“We left Sardinia feeling unfulfilled with our weekend because we knew we were capable of much more. The car was fast and showed its potential on tough gravel roads. Kenya will be another challenge, but it is going to be an incredible experience,” said Sordo. “The Safari Rally is like nothing else, it’s an event that we have never contested, and it has really unique stage profiles. I like to drive in such conditions. We’re hoping to score a good result for the team.”
Weekend at a glance
Based at the Kenya Wildlife Training Institute in Naivasha, the Safari Rally Kenya covers 18 stages over a competitive distance of 320,19 km. It starts with a Super Special Stage at Kasarani on Thursday afternoon, followed by the rally’s first full day on Friday, which will cover the southern shore of Lake Naivasha. Chui Lodge (13,34 km), Kedong (at 32,68 km the longest stage of the rally), and Oserian (18,87 km) will be run twice.
Saturday’s action moves north around Lake Elmenteita with the eponymous opening stage (14,67 km) heading a trio of timed tests. Soysambu (20,33 km) and Sleeping Warrior (31,04 km) complete the loop and will be run twice. The final day, Sunday, covers Loldia (11,33 km), Hell’s Gate (10,56 km) and Malewa (9,71 km), with the two opening stages run again to complete the rally.