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Return of Safari Rally to World series the season’s highlight

Tuesday December 17 2019

President Uhuru Kenyatta flags off the 2019 KCB Safari Rally at the Moi International Sports centre, Kasarani on July 5, 2019. PHOTO | ANWAR SIDI |

President Uhuru Kenyatta flags off the 2019 KCB Safari Rally at the Moi International Sports centre, Kasarani on July 5, 2019. PHOTO | ANWAR SIDI |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

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The 2019 Motor Sports season will go down in history as one of the best for local fans.

One of the highlights of the season was staging the world famous Safari Rally as a world-class event that caught the attention of World Rally Championship (WRC) officials. In addition to good organisation, President Uhuru Kenyatta played a big role, with the assistance of Kenya Motor Sports Federation (KMSF) chairman Phineas Kimathi in convincing FIA President, Jean Todt to grant Kenya the WRC status after an absence of almost 19 years.

Kimathi, who is also chairman of the Safari Rally WRC Project, was assisted by a large number of officials and volunteers who ensured the Safari Rally was run without major hitches.

And Kimathi has been full of praise for the manner the season was run. “It has been an eventful year that saw the return of Safari Rally back to the World Rally Championships after 17 Years. The KCB Kenya National Rally Championship was equally a success despite challenges from the weather which led to postponement of a number of events,” Kimathi told Nation Sport. “I thank the organising clubs, volunteers, officials and competitors for supporting different disciplines organised under KMSF’s umbrella. Special recognition goes to KCB Bank for sponsoring the Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) and Autocross series.”

Kenya was finally awarded a slot in the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship Calendar and the country will host WRC events alongside other 13 countries. Kenya last hosted a WRC event in 2002 when the late Colin McRae won the Safari Rally. Monte Carlo will open the WRC season while Kenya will be the sixth nation to host its round of the series in July.

Baldev Chager, who won the 2019 Safari Rally in a Mitsubishi Lancet Evolution 10 car, has won the overall 2019 Kenya National Rally Championship after the Guru Nanak Rally was cancelled.


Baldev Chager and navigator Ravi Soni celebrate
Baldev Chager and navigator Ravi Soni celebrate after winning the 2019 KCB Safari Rally on July 7, 2019 in Naivasha. PHOTO | ANWAR SIDI |

Chager needed a top-five finish in the last event of the season to win the overall crown for the fourth time in his career. However, the cancellation helped him win the title without further fight. The 44-year-old started competitive rallying at 18 in 1993.

“Back then, the local championship was called Clubman Rally Championship and we started last and won the rally outright by a few minutes. Since then, we have been national champions in 2008, 2013 and 2014, also finishing second on many occasions. We have won the Safari Rally three times (in 2013, 2014 and 2019), with many podium finishes,” Chager told Nation Sport.

From driving go-karts and riding bikes at a very early age, Baldev Chager has now become a household name in rallying.

The season got better with Manvir Baryan clinching his third straight title of the African Rally Championship.

The Kenyan driver won all the rounds of the African Rally Championship outright apart from the Safari Rally. The Skoda Fabia R5 driver also won the Mombasa Rally, a round of the KCB Kenya National Rally Championship event.

Unfortunately, Baryan crashed badly in Meru Rally. He was later flown by helicopter to Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi where he spent four days recovering from a hairline fracture of his pelvis.

The wreck of the Skoda Fabia which Africa rally
The wreck of the Skoda Fabia which Africa rally champion Manvir Baryan and his navigator Drew Sturrock were using in the KCB Meru Rally inside Nkunga forest, five kilometres from Meru town on November 9, 2019. PHOTO | CHARLES WANYORO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The season saw Onkar Rai win two rounds of the KNRC, while Chager secured victories in three events. Baryan and Carl Tundo each won one rally.

The smaller Classes have also been decided, with Issa Amwari and Job Njiru finishing seventh overall and clinching the Division One Title in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 10 car.

Daren Miranda and Wayne Fernandes are the Formula Two champions in a Subaru Impreza car. They won in their category in Kajiado, Mombasa, Nanyuki and Meru rallies respectively.

Jasmeet Chana and Ravi Chana clinched the Group N title, driving a Mitsubishi Evo10.

Jasmeet and Ravi have been 2007 and 2009 2WD champions in addition to the following crowns 2011 Group S champions, 2012 Division 3 champions, 2014 division 2 champions and 2015 Division 1 champions. The KNRC season faced several postponements and cancellations of events due to poor weather.

Gurvir Bhabra, chairman of the Rallies Commission of KMSF, said he faced difficulties in running the KMSF calendar.

“The Western Kenya Motor Club postponed their event before the Safari Rally, and the Motorsport Council was unable to grant a date until after the Safari Rally.”

The 2020 calendar has also been released. It will have eight rounds including the Safari Rally. Eldoret is missing out though several clubs have been accorded two rallies each for the season.