This week’s Safari Rally Kenya (28 – 31 March) promises to deliver one of the most arduous tests since its triumphant return to the FIA World Rally Championship calendar three years ago.

After a six-week break since navigating the sub-zero forests of Sweden, drivers and teams now face a completely different challenge as round three of the season begins on Thursday amidst the captivating plains and vibrant wildlife of Africa.

Pierre-Louis Loubet (FRA) and Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) of M-Sport Ford WRT are seen during the World Rally Championship Kenya in Naivasha, Kenya on 25 June, 2023 Photo By Jaanus Ree for Red Bull Content Pool

This year’s Safari Rally has been strategically moved forward in the calendar to reclaim its historic March slot, aligning perfectly with Kenya’s rainy season. Pre-rally downpours muddied some of the roads during recce, and many of the cars are running snorkels – which allow the engine to breathe – to deal with potentially flooded sections.

Sebastien Ogier (FRA) Vincent Landais (FRA) Of team TOYOTA GAZOO RACING WRT are seen on roadsection during the World Rally Championship Kenya in Naivasha, Kenya on June 25, 2023 Photo By Jaanus Ree for Red Bull Content Pool

In Kenya, all eyes are on Toyota Gazoo Racing. The GR Yaris Rally1 team has won every edition since 2021, and even claimed a sensational top-four sweep here 12 months ago. Despite its formidable track record, however, Toyota is still searching for its first triumph of the season.

Elfyn Evans (GB) Scott Martin (GB) of team TOYOTA GAZOO RACING WRT are seen during the World Rally Championship Kenya in Naivasha, Kenya on June 24, 2023 Photo By Jaanus Ree for Red Bull Content Pool

Elfyn Evans, Takamoto Katsuta and reigning world champion Kalle Rovanperä will each hope to change that. Rovanperä topped the podium in 2022, while Katsuta – who hails from Japan – has netted an impressive two podiums from three Safari starts.

Hyundai Motorsport stands ready to challenge Toyota‘s African supremacy, and to extend its success streak with i20 N drivers Thierry Neuville, Ott Tänak and Esapekka Lappi. Rallye Monte-Carlo winner Neuville currently leads the drivers’ championship by three points from Evans, while a hungry Lappi recorded his second career victory last time out in Sweden.

Thierry Neuville (BEL) Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL) of team HYUNDAI SHELL MOBIS WORLD RALLY TEAM are seen racing during the World Rally Championship Kenya in Nairobi, Kenya on June 22, 2023 Photo By Jaanus Ree for Red Bull Content Pool

M-Sport Ford enters Kenya on a high after young Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux scored his maiden podium at the previous round. The British team fields a trio of Puma Rally1 cars for Fourmaux, Grégoire Munster and gentleman driver Jourdan Serderidis.

The rally starts in capital city Nairobi on Thursday lunchtime. Ahead lie 19 gruelling special stages around Lakes Naivasha and Elmenteita covering 367.76km before Sunday afternoon’s finish in Naivasha.

Kurhula David Ngobeni

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