Traditionally, these Easter holidays would have been headlined by the iconic Safari Rally with the world’s toughest rally an indelible feature of the long weekend for over 50 decades.
Newspapers dedicated acres of space to the Safari, complete with full-page “scoreboards” with motorsports enthusiasts taking time to fill in section times and overall positions of all drivers as the cars zoomed through remote villages, from Mwatate in the Coast to Kebirigo in Nyanza all the way to the grueling Flourspar climb in the Rift Valley.
But times have changed, and with the Safari Rally now reinstated into the World Rally Championships (WRC) after 18 years in the cold following various changes to the global circuit.
Shorter, smoother sections and increased safety measures, coupled with real-time television coverage has revolutionized rallying and the joy of watching the competition through the Easter weekend gobbled up by calendar demands from other rounds of the WRC.
Having run as a candidate event for the 2020 WRC series, this year’s Safari was pencilled for July 16 to 19, but, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, holding the competition on this dates is increasingly untenable.
The Kenyan government has been holding talks with the International Automobile Federation (FIA) with a view to deciding the fate of this year’s Safari in a season that has seen only three rounds run in Monte Carlo, Sweden and Mexico with three other rounds having been called off owing to fears over the Covid-19 pandemic and the Chilean round cancelled altogether due to civil strife in Santiago.
Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, Principal Secretary Joe Okudo and the Safari Rally CEO Phineas Kimathi on Wednesday held a teleconference with FIA President Jean Todt and the WRC Promoter over the Safari and the FIA is expected to make an announcement ant time from Monday next week.
A postponement is almost certainly signed, sealed and delivered, but the official announcement by the FIA is awaited next week.
“There have been ongoing consultations between @AMB_A_Mohammed, @JoeOkudo,@wrcsafarirally CEO Phineas Kimathi, President of the FIA and WRC Promoter regarding the status of the safari Rally event scheduled for July following the Covid-19 outbreak,” a tweet from the Ministry of Sport on Thursday night read.
“Those discussions are still ongoing and no decisions have yet been made. The leadership of the Ministry, the WRC Safari Rally Organising Team, our partners at the FIA and the WRC Promoter will continue to engage as the current global pandemic unfolds,” a follow-up tweet added.
The FIA will make the announcement on fresh dates after consultation with the Kenyan government, and particularly the Office of President as President Uhuru Kenyatta is the event’s patron.
CS Amina, PS Okudo and Safari CEO Kimathi have been burning midnight oil to meet all of FIA’s demands and reports from Paris indicate that Todt – himself a Safari Rally veteran – and his team are impressed by the Kenyan output which could help the Safari reclaim its position as the most challenging rally on the global calendar.
The FIA also announced on Friday of its decision to suspended testing by WRC manufacturer teams.
The suspension will last until May 31, 2020 or until the FIA Rally Department can confirm that local measures confirm an equal opportunity for all registered Manufacturer Teams to test.
“This short-term measure was proposed in order to prevent inequalities between the WRC Manufacturer Teams regarding their capability to conduct tests in light of the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic and varying restrictions that apply in the different countries,” FIA said in a press statement.
The WRC Promoter and FIA continue to closely monitor the situation in affected countries due to host future rounds, as well as the home countries of WRC teams and all competitors.
“All parties will work to identify potential alternative dates for the postponed rallies later in the season should the Covid-19 situation improve, taking into consideration championship logistics, the ability of competitors to travel again and the ability of the country in question to prepare and host the WRC at such a time,” said WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla.
The WRC Promoter is the agency that handles FIA’s marketing anc commercial rights.
“In these challenging and extraordinary days, the entire teams at WRC Promoter and FIA send a strong message of solidarity to all competitors, officials, personnel, volunteers and fans across the globe who are fighting this pandemic together.
“Please follow medical advice and stay safe and healthy.
The WRC Promoter has also invited rally fans across the globe to vote for the greatest rally driver of all time in an exercise supposed to engage the rallying fraternity which has been affected by cancelled events in Argentina, Portugal and Italy.
Last month, after consultations it was unanimously agreed by the organisers - Automóvel Club de Portugal (ACP) and Automobile Club d’Italia (ACI) - to postpone their rallies.
Vodafone Rally de Portugal, round five of the FIA World Rally Championship, was due to take place in Matosinhos from May 21 to 24.
Rally Italia Sardegna, round six, was due to take place in Sardinia from June 4 to 7.
“We wish to thank all our supporters and partners for their understanding and look forward to welcoming them in Matosinhos at a later stage this year,” ACP president Carlos Barbosa said.
“Automobile Club d'Italia, as the federation of Italian motor racing and as Rally Italia Sardegna organiser, has made itself available, with the FIA and with the WRC Promoter, to study a possible new date for an event of great prestige and great historical importance,” ACI president Angelo Sticchi Damiani added.