The 2023 season WRC, which started in Monte Carlo, is already half over. The WRC participants left rough Italy and turned to the African continent. When you think of Africa, you think of the notorious Dakar Rally as the “Rally from Hell,” but due to various problems, the Dakar Rally moved through South America to Saudi Arabia. Thus, the largest motorsport event currently held on the African continent has become the WRC Safari Rally. The Safari Rally, held in Kenya, located in eastern Africa, from June 22 to 25, was held in the vast African wilderness as the name suggests. It is a ‘hell’ itself that brings many participants into frustration with rough stages and deadly heat, as well as unpredictable environments.
The history of the Safari Rally dates back to the 1953 East African Safari Rally. Safari Rally, which started to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of England, appeared with the launch of the WRC in 1973 and became infamous as a 5,000 km-long wasteland hardcore event with no proper roads. It has been missing from WRC since 2002 due to financial difficulties and attempted to come back in 2019, but could not reopen until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For reference, the name Kenya Safari Rally has been used since 1974.
Even though it has been relatively ‘mild’ since the 1990s by drastically reducing distances, the Safari Rally is still one of the most difficult rallies in the WRC. The open flat ground is capable of driving at high speeds of over 200 km/h, but it is difficult to know where rocks are hidden, and the soft soil called ‘Fesh Fesh’ instantly becomes a pit and tangles the rally car. The fine soil becomes waves or thick dust and blocks the driver’s vision. Even the weather is fickle, and when it rains, it turns into a huge mud in an instant. This is why everyone agrees that luck is more important than skill.
Again, Thierry Neuville, Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo drive for Hyundai Motorsport. Currently second in Drivers’ Championship points, Neuville is desperate for a Safari Rally win to catch up to Rovanperä. Neuville took the lead in the 2021 Safari before falling behind with a broken suspension, and last year he finished in 5th place. But he did win in Italy, and many are expecting his second win.
After three consecutive podium finishes, Lappi will make his debut in the Safari Rally. The key was how quickly he could adapt to a completely different style of rallying. Sordo competed in 2021 and finished 12th, and last year just watched Oliver Solberg drive. At the time, Solberg finished in 10th place.
Hyundai has rebuilt its driver lineup by selecting Teemu Suninen to replace Craig Breen. Suninen was the most likely choice for Hyundai. As a Hyundai WRC2 driver, he has been in charge of developing and testing the i20 N Rally 2. Born in Finland in 1994, Suninen started kart racing, went through rallycross in 2012, and made the full transition to rallying in 2013.
Suninen, who joined Hyundai in 2021 after working for Team Oreca and M-Sport Ford, already has experience driving the Hyundai World Rally Car (i20 Coupe WRC) at the 2021 Monza Rally. Suninen, who was very impressive by finishing 6th in his first car, was promoted to Hyundai Rally 1 driver this time. Although all plans for him have not been revealed yet, it seems likely that he will compete in his home ground, Finland, and the similar Estonian rally that will be held before it.
Kalle Rovanperä, Elfyn Evans, veteran Sébastien Ogier and Takamoto Katsuta drove the Yaris rally car for Toyota. Last year in Kenya, Toyota’s drivers also had an overwhelming record of finishing in the top four. At the time, Rovanperä was the winner, with Evans second, Katsuta third and Ogier fourth. Looking at team history, Toyota has been particularly strong on Safari. There is a record of 10 championships so far, including 4 consecutive years from 1984 to 1986 and 1992 to 1995 during Group B days.
At M-Sport Ford, entries include Ott Tänak and Pierre-Louis Loubet. And Greek private driver Jourdan Serderidis drove a Puma Rally 1 for the first time since Mexico. Tanak has been on the podium in the Safari Rally in 2021 with a third place, and this is Loubet’s first Safari Rally.
As last year, the Safari Rally course was held on 356.98km-long 19 stages, around Lake Naivasha, located 90km northwest of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, and near Lake Elmenteita, a bit further north. The wide, expansive plains look like high-speed stages from a distance, but are rough and rocky and break suspension in an instant; Drivers sometimes have to drive slower than people can walk. Also, the roads are not clear; All drivers feel the urge to run across corners to break records, making this rally more challenging. According to the regulations, at least two tires of a rally car must be on the road, but even if you try to apply this rule thoroughly, it is not easy to determine where the official course is.
Shakedown is usually on a Thursday or Friday, but the Safari Rally started it on Wednesday, June 21st. The fear of safari started from this time. Katsuta rolled two laps when landing after a jump, and Lappi lost a valuable opportunity to adapt to the course by giving up the ride due to a broken propeller shaft. Rovanperä was fastest in the test, followed by Tanak, Ogier and Neuville.
*Propeller Shaft: A part that transmits the driving force of the engine to the front and rear wheels. In the i20 N Rally 1 Hybrid, the output of the hybrid system is also transmitted through the propeller shaft.
Thursday, June 22 at 2pm. The race kicked off on the 4.84km Kasarani Super Special Stage outside Nairobi. Two cars started at the same time in front of a crowd of spectators, doubling the thrill and fun. Tanak won SS1; He beat Ogier by 0.1 second to rise to the overall lead. Rovanperä, Neuville, Evans, Lappi, Katsuta, Sordo and Loubet followed. Lappi and Katsuda came out after repairing their car that was damaged during the test.
Friday, June 23, 8:00 a.m. Racers set out on a wild adventure at Loldia, a 19.17km stretch north of Lake Naivasha. Friday is a 125.54km-long six stage from Loldia to Geothermal (13.12km long) and the long-distance stage Kedong (30.48km long) repeating in the morning and afternoon. At the start of Friday, Ogier moved up to the lead. Tanak finished 6th overall after being blocked by herds of pigs and zebras. Rovanperä finished second and Neuville third, while Lappi and Sordo were seventh and eighth respectively. Sordo, like Tanak, also lost time due to the zebras.
In SS3, Lappi took the top time while Neuville suffered a punctured front wheel and fell back to 6th overall. Thanks to this, the Toyota team took 1st to 4th overall. At Kedong, the last stage of the morning, Rovanperä was fastest, followed by Neuville. Rovanperä followed behind the leader Ogier, who had problems with the hybrid system. Tanak, who suffered a flat tire, lost about one and a half minutes and fell back to ninth overall.
In the afternoon, Ogier won all three stages, widening his time difference with Rovanperä to 22.8 seconds. Saving weight with just one spare tire was the right thing to do. SS6, once again Geothermal, became a nightmare for Neuville. This time, it wasn’t the tire that was damaged, but the left front suspension. There was nothing he could do; In the end, he had no choice but to retire.
Besides Neuville, many other drivers have experienced the horrors of safari. Katsuta crashed into a zebra on SS5, breaking his car’s *steering arm, and the duo on the Ford team both suffered flat tires. Solberg, who led the WRC2 class, was desperate to retire at the end of the day on Friday. As Friday ended, Ogier was in the lead. Rovanperä and Evans were second and third, and Lappi moved up to fourth overall. Katsuta was fifth, Sordo was sixth, and Tanak was more than a minute and a half away from Sordo to seventh.
*Steering Arm: The part in the steering system that goes from the steering wheel to the wheels. If the steering arm is damaged, the car cannot change direction properly.
Saturday, June 24, was 150.88km, the longest of the races. Here, it started at the 29.32km-long SS8 Soysambu, passed through Elmenteita (15.08km), and repeated the longest stage of the event, the Sleeping Warrior (31.04km). In some sections, the road surface was wet, and drivers sometimes had to cross streams. It rained heavily late in the afternoon, forming a very slippery muddy pool.
Ogier suffered a flat tire on the opening SS8. Because it was near the end of the stage, he finished safely with rattling tires; He had to fight fiercely for the lead with Rovanperä, who held the overall lead but later narrowed the gap. Evans, on the other hand, had to relive the horrors of Italy. The Yaris Rally 1, which had problems crossing the waterway at the time, caused the same problem this time. After crossing the stream at Soysambu, Evans’ car stopped for about 40 seconds as smoke rose from the engine room, Lappi moved up to third place overall. Loubet crashed into a tree, damaged his front end, and had broken windshield wipers, making it difficult to see.
After lunch service, SS11 repeated again at Soysambu. Lappi is stalled again with a propeller shaft problem. With Lappi retired, the Toyota team again took 1st to 4th overall. Leading Ogier and Rovanperä are 29 seconds apart, and the gap between 3rd place Evans and 4th place Katsuta is less than 3 seconds. Hyundai’s last survivor, Sordo, remained fifth overall, with Tanak in sixth more than three minutes away. Serderidis, like Evans, suffered an engine stop while crossing the stream.
Katsuta, who recorded the top time in SS12, overtook Evans to move up to third place overall. SS13 was caught by Rovanperä, narrowing the time difference with Ogier to 16.7 seconds. As Saturday passed, Ogier was still in the lead, Rovanperä in second and Evans back in third. After that, Katsuta, Sordo, Tanak, and Loubet lined up to 7th place. Neuville finished Saturday in 9th and Lappi in 12th.
On Sunday, the 25th, the final match was held in the SS14~SS19 75.72km section, which repeated three stages, starting with 9km Malewa, Oserian (18.33km), and Hell’s Gate (10.53km). In the opening, Rovanperä cut the time difference with Ogier to 8.6 seconds with a top time. Lappi went to the races to fix a broken prop shaft, but had the same problem again. Ogier was at an aerodynamic disadvantage due to his rear hatch being blown off a tree branch, but desperately fended off Rovanperä’s pursuit. At SS18, Katsuta recorded a top time and held out hope for a podium finish.
In the end, Ogier beat Rovanperä by 6.7 seconds to win the Safari Rally. In addition, Toyota monopolized the Safari Rally podium by sweeping from 1st to 4th places. So far, the exclusive WRC podium record has been 15 times for Lancia, which is the all-time first place. Toyota marked its 5th record through this game.
Following Ogier was Rovanperä in the second, Evans was third, and Katsuta was fourth by 25 seconds. After that, Sordo came in 5th and Tanak and Loubet in 6th and 7th. Coming back from retirement, Neuville was in scoring position in 8th place, and scored an additional 5 power stage points with a top time in the final SS19. However, after the race, illegal facts regarding course navigation were recognized, and Neuville’s points were taken away from this safari rally. After the pre-game Recce, one of Neuville’s staff was reportedly caught looking around the course at an unauthorized time. As a result, the rankings of other drivers rose one by one, and WRC2 players took the 8th to 10th places overall. Suffering from a series of rally car problems, Lappi only finished 12th; This was a disappointing result for him, who was participating in the Safari Rally for the first time.
As a result of this match, Rovanperä took the lead with 140 points; Evans, Ogier and Tanak secured 2nd to 4th places in the drivers’ overall standings, while Neuville, who did not score in this race, slipped to 5th in drivers’ championship points. The next race, Rally Estonia and Finland, is like a home ground for Rovanperä, so it won’t be easy for Neuville to catch up. In terms of team points, Toyota led with 285 points, and Hyundai Motor Company is chasing after with 237 points.
By Sujin Lee, automobile critic
Excited about the 1991 establishment of the first domestic auto mania magazine 〈Car Vision〉, I sent a series of long letters there that led to an unexpected hire. After becoming an editor and the Editor-in-Chief for 〈Car Life〉 and 〈Car Vision〉, I have started a new career as an auto critic. My recent interests include cutting-edge techs like electric cars, connected cars, and autonomous driving, but the ‘otaku’ in me doesn’t want internal combustion engines to disappear either.
HMG Journal Operation Teamgroup@hyundai.com
Pursuant to the Creative Commons License (CCL) 2.0, all users can copy, distribute, and transmit Information available on the Hyundai Motor Group Newsroom, or use it for exhibitions and performances. Please note, however, that all information is protected by copyright. Information users must use the information available on the Hyundai Motor Group Newsroom for strictly private/personal purposes only.HMG Operation Policy