Rally purists believe the good-humored Hyundai-Toyota supremacy battles will add the much-needed zest to the fabled WRC Safari Rally which returns to the World Rally Championship (WRC).
M-Sport Ford will be the third manufacturers' team on Safari though not so much is anticipated from the Greta Britain based outfit.
Rightly so, M-sport stands a very slim chance on Safari given their lineup of very young drivers, as outgoing Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) Division 1 Navigators' Champion Victor Okundi would put it.
"M-Sport drivers are young and inexperienced and these work against them in two ways: For one, the youthfulness in them will make them want to prove their mettle to the team. Secondly, inexperience exposes them to costly mistakes, but it's a wait and see situation though. In both cases they don't stand a chance. The Safari relishes inexperienced drivers," Okundi said.
Nevertheless, purists also reckon that the nature of situation in Kenya will call for considerable amounts of calmness and maximum attack when it really matters on smooth stretches.
Sleeping Warrior and the other tough stretches on the route will, by and large, determine who walks away with the coveted Safari title -given the high attrition rate.
Outgoing KNRC Two Wheel Drive Navigators Champions Wayne Fernandes bantered when reached for comment: "I am a diehard Toyota fan, and I'm hoping my boys will maintain the pace and keep their cars running to get three cars to the podium," Fernandes stated.
"Granted, Kenya is a Toyota country and with how they been performing in 2019, 2020 and 2021, I'm sure they will dominate the Safari. I'm hoping that the rains will have subsided, and considering that most of the route is fast, it will be a mixed feeling of attack and caution," he added.
"But the rockery towards the end of Sleeping Warrior will definitely catch many unawares. Those who will have to keep it calm and clean in the rough will master the Safari terrain. Hyundai Motorsport team drivers will be no pushovers though."
Okundi, who switched roles from calling pace-notes to the driver's bucket seat of a Toyota Vitz and back to co-driving, goes on to explain.
"Safari Rally will require absolute control from the team bosses and cucumber calmness from the drivers. Of course the WRC won't play the waiting game that we do locally because they've a lot riding on that event."
"Whoever wins this will have won the first Safari in the current WRC format and generation!! Serious bragging rights here! They will really need to harness their testosterone levels for this one to stand any chance as we saw how tough it can get during the recent Equator Rally which acted as WRC Safari dry run."
"My take is that Toyota is going to take the Safari. The Toyota lineup has one of the most meticulous rally gladiators in Sébastien Ogier. They also have a very reliable wingman with championship ability in Elfyn Evans."
"They could be coming with the new engine they're trying out in Portugal though I would argue passionately against. Safari requires reliability over anything else. Hyundai also have a chance with the quick Ott Tanak (my favorite) and Thierry Neuville. These two are good in their own rights but haven't quite gelled as teammates in my view."
"In the African homesteads we never keep two alpha males for a reason and that's what will cost Hyundai on Safari, in my view. In fact, Hyundai would truly get better performance from Dani Sordo than their core duo of Tanak and Neuville."
Although M-Sport Ford are yet to unveil their lineups for Safari Rally, names will surely be known when entries close on Tuesday May 25 (1800hours).
Toyota will file four drivers in Kalle Rovanpera, world champion Sebastien Ogier, Takamoto Kastusa and Elfyn Evanss.
Tanak/Martin Jarvedja and Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe lead the Safari attack with Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada (who share the third car with Craig Breen/Paul Nagle) completing the three -line up for Hyundai.
Away from the good-humored WRC rivalry local fans are also eager to see just how Kenyan R5s of Onkar Rai, Tejveer Rai, Carl "Flash" Tundo (VW Polos), and Karan Patel (Ford Fiesta) will perform against visiting WRC 2 and 3 crews.
"Equator Rally featured a record seven R5s- a sign of how much the African continent has grown in the sport! Guys have invested a lot of resources in the machinery they're driving suggesting how much their confidence levels have reflected on their driving and reparation.
-Carl 'Flash' Tundo-
Tundo was lucky to get a Minti Motorsport R5 drive and with only five days of preparation, he totally bossed it on Equator Rally.
Okundi will not make his dream debut to the WRC Safari event: "Despite not being able to compete in the event, I still feel butterflies in the stomach as the day draws near! The anticipation is insane."
"It feels like the return of a long-lost family member, that's the best way I can describe it. As we speak Naivasha is fully booked during the Safari weekend! But I've got to be there to witness this lifetime event even if I were to sleep on a treetop!! I hope to see our local boys collect some section times in the WRC2 and WRC3 category. And that the resource invested (financial, man hours and emotional!) eventually pays off with a successful event."
-About Toyota Gazoo Racing-
The Japanese brand can trace its rally roots back to 1957 when it entered the Mobilgas Round Australia Rally. But it was 1975 when Toyota really made its mark, when Hannu Mikkola won Finland's 1000 Lakes Rally at the wheel of a factory-backed Corolla.
Toyota established a motorsport base in Cologne, Germany, and went on to claim more WRC victories, including three consecutive Safari Rally wins.
In 1990, Toyota had its first WRC champion driver in Carlos Sainz, and in 1993 it became the first Japanese brand to win the WRC manufacturers' title.
By the end of its factory-backed activities in 1999, Toyota had collected three manufacturers' titles, (in 1993, 1994 and 1999) and four drivers' titles (two for Sainz and one each for Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol).
Toyota's return was confirmed in January 2015 by the company's president, and passionate rally enthusiast, Akio Toyoda. A team base was established in Finland and Toyoda put former world champion Tommi Mäkinen in charge of developing a Yaris ready for a 2017 comeback.
Hyundai made its return to WRC competition in 2014 with an all-new team and ambitious long-term plans for success in rallying's top class.
The Korean firm wasn't new to the WRC. It competed in the F2 category between 1998 and 2000, before switching to a World Rally Car version of its Accent saloon until 2003.
The 2019 world champion Ott Tänak made a shock switch to the Korean squad for 2020 and Hyundai squeezed home at the final round to secure back-to-back successes.
Tänak and Neuville lead the 2021 attack, with Dani Sordo and Craig Breen sharing the third car.
M-Sport was selected to breathe new life into Ford's World Rally Championship programme in 1997. Former world champions such as Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Marcus Grönholm delivered numerous rally victories, the latter leading the squad to back-to-back manufacturers' titles in 2006 and 2007 with a Focus RS World Rally Car.
Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen brought more victories when the Fiesta replaced the Focus in 2011, but Ford's withdrawal from the championship at the end of 2012 delivered a financial blow to Wilson's small team.
It toiled without further success until 2017 when the arrival of Sébastien Ogier signaled a swift upturn in fortunes. The Frenchman led the team to both the drivers' and manufacturers' world titles in an impressive new-generation Fiesta.
Ford returned to M-Sport's side in 2018 in greater force and Ogier delivered another drivers' crown before returning to Citroën in 2019.
There's a youthful look to the 2021 squad. Twenty-four-year-old Gus Greensmith tackles his first full season in a Fiesta World Rally Car. He is joined by Teemu Suninen, 26, and rising French star Adrian Fourmaux, 25, who share a second Fiesta.
WORLD RALLY TEAMS 2021
Ott Tanak /Martin Jarveoja-Estonia
Thierry Neuville/Martin Wydaeghe -Belgium
Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada - Spain
Craig Green/Paul Nagle - Ireland
-Gus Greensmith/Elliott Edmondson-GB
-Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula-Finland
-Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul -Belgium
-Lorenzo Bertelli/Simone Scattolin-Italy
TOYOTA GAZOO RACING
-Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia - France
-Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin-GBR
-Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen - Finland
-Takamoto Katsuta/Dan Barritt-Japan/GBR
KEY DATES FOR WRC SAFARI
Opening date of entries
Closing date of entries
Final date for Shakedown registration (Except P1)
Opening of the Service Park for Teams, Naivasha KWS Institute
Reconnaissance Day 1
-Reconnaissance Day 2
-Scrutineering /component sealing for WRC2, WRC3 & Non Priority Driver
-Publishing of Shakedown Start Lis
-Safari Welcome Cocktail- All drivers compulsory
-Reconnaissance Day 3
-Shakedown for all Priority and Non Priority Drivers-Loldia (5.4km)
-FIA Pre event press conference
-Presidential and VIP Speeches at KICC
-Super Special Stage SSS 1 at Kasarani (Section 1)
-SECTIONS 2&3-Service Park Naivasha (Chui Lodge 1&2, Kedong 1&2 and Oserian 1&2)
-Opening of media centre Service Park Naivasha
-Publication of start list for Section 4
-SECTIONS 4&5 -Service Park Naivasha (Elementaita 1&2, Soysambu 1&2 and Sleeping Warrior 1&2
-Publication of start list for Section 6
- SECTION 6-Loldia 1 & Hell's Gate 1
-SECTION 7-Malewa, Loldia 2-SECTION 8- Hell's Gate 2 (Wolf Power Stage)
-Power Stage-Finish Podium Ceremony
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