Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team return to the Safari Rally Kenya 22-25 June aiming to maintain their proud record of success on the epic African event, the seventh round of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship.
The Safari, celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, is recognised as one of rallying’s toughest challenges. TGR-WRT has won both editions held since the event made a welcome comeback to the WRC calendar in 2021. Reigning world champion Kalle Rovanperä (who leads the current standings by 25 points) took victory last year ahead of Elfyn Evans.
This year they are joined by 2021 winner Sébastien Ogier, while Takamoto Katsuta, who claimed his first WRC podium finishes in Kenya in ’21 and ’22, drives an additional GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID with the support of the TGR WRC Challenge Program.
While the Safari used to be held over very long stages on roads that were still open to the public, it now features a format similar to other modern WRC rounds. Nonetheless, it still poses many challenges: some sections of the gravel stages are extremely rough and rocky, while others on soft sand can be just as hard to navigate. Rain can also dramatically affect the conditions, turning a dry and dusty surface into deep mud in an instant.
The rally route is similar to last year, with shakedown taking place on Wednesday before the event begins from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Thursday lunchtime. The nearby Kasarani super special stage then kick-starts the competitive action. Friday is based around Lake Naivasha, around 60 miles north-west of Nairobi and where the service park is also located. An anti-clockwise loop of three stages around the lake will be run twice either side of midday service.
Saturday is the longest day of the rally, taking crews north to Lake Elmenteita for another trio of repeated tests. On Sunday there are two more loops of three stages around Lake Naivasha, starting with a reworked version of the Malewa test last run in 2021 and ending with Hell’s Gate, which hosts the rally-ending Power Stage. A total of 221competitive miles will be driven across the four days.
A concept car, the Hilux MHEV, will be also driven as a test car in Kenya. The goal is to demonstrate and offer options for achieving carbon neutrality in markets with underdeveloped infrastructure. Juha Kankkunen, the Toyota rally legend and three-time Safari Rally winner, will be behind the wheel.
Welshman Elfyn Evans said, “It’s always difficult to know what we can expect on the Safari Rally, which is what makes it such a challenge for the teams and the crews.
“Most of the route will be the same as last year, but we know that the conditions can vary massively: not only from one year to the next, but also from one section of stage to another. We’ve already experienced a lot of different conditions there over the past couple of years, so we have been looking back through those events to prepare as best as we can, but we also need to be ready to adapt to whatever we face during the week.”
M-Sport Ford drivers Ott Tänak and Pierre-Louis Loubet showcased the spirit of unity and camaraderie in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) as they joined forces with renowned marathon world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge (above) for a remarkable training run ahead of Safari Rally Kenya, which takes place this week (22 – 25 June).
Kipchoge, 38, is widely regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time as the only human to ever run a marathon in under two hours. He holds the official world record of 2hrs 1min 09sec in marathon as well as boasting four of the fastest six times in history. Additionally, he has achieved two Olympic gold medals in marathon plus a silver and bronze earned in the 5,000m distance.
At an altitude of 2,400m in the scenic Kenyan highlands, Tänak, Loubet and co-driver Martin Järveoja joined Kipchoge at his training camp on the outskirts of Kaptagat. The camp united exceptional talents including women’s world-record holder Faith Kipyegon, two-time New York City Marathon winner Geoffrey Kamworor and 2009 10,000m world champion Linet Masai.
Embracing Kipchoge’s commitment to the environment, the WRC stars each planted a tree to commemorate their visit before embarking on a light jog alongside Kipchoge and his esteemed Kenyan counterparts, culminating in a visit to a local school supported by Kipchoge’s charitable foundation.