Nairobi - More than 45 drivers, including 10 foreign crews, have been cleared to compete in this year's Safari Rally, which seeks to clear the final hurdles on its way to being included in the World Rally Championship from 2020.
The Safari Rally, arguably the toughest event in WRC history, has attracted crews from host Kenya, as well as from Britain, Italy, Belgium, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. As entries were closing on Wednesday, for the event set for July 5 to 7, organisers were upbeat that the event, running as a candidate race for the WRC this year, would overcome its final hurdle to convince the FIA to include it in the 14-tier WRC.
"We have huge interest from foreign and local drivers," said WRC Project Chief Executive Officer Phineas Kimathi on Wednesday. "It is a clear endorsement of the huge following the event has had."
Kimathi said that the Safari Rally has signed a three-year contract to be part of the 14-tier World Rally Champion (WRC) running from 2020 to 2022. However it must pass safety tests. The Safari Rally will also double up as the fourth round of the 2019 African Rally Championship (ARC), in which Kenya's Manvir Baryan, driving a Ford Fiesta, is perched at the top of the leaderboard.
Belgians Giancarlo Davite and Sylvia Vindevogel are confident of a good performance. "It feels good to be back in Kenya for the Safari Rally as part of the FIA WRC Candidate Event. I hope to be among the top Mitsubishi Lancer drivers at the end of the competition," said Davite.
There is also Leroy Gomes and Urshilla Gomes from Zambia being cleared to compete. "It is an inspiration to compete in the Safari Rally. Kenya has some good drivers and I am curious to have the feeling of the roads and speed thrills," said Gomes.
Other contenders are Italian Pieiro Canobbio, Ugandans Yasin Nasser and Christakis Fitidis, Abdul Katete (Rwanda), Lloyd John (Britain) and Zambian Leroy Gomes.
Kenyan driver Ian Duncan will headline the local crew as he eyes his fifth title in the race. The 1994 WRC Safari champion will be going for victory as the most experienced driver in the field of 43 drivers who have so far confirmed participation.
"Drivers will earn additional five points for winning the power stage and bring Rally more to the people," said Kimathi. So important is the safety of drivers and spectators that the FIA has sent the 1983 WRC Safari Rally champion Michelle Mouton as the safety delegate.