Nairobi, Kenya | AFP | Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday hailed a decision by the International Automobile Federation (FIA) to include the country’s fabled Safari Rally in the world championships from next year.
Kenya has worked hard to get its rally back onto the world circuit after it fell off in 2002 due to concerns over safety, organisation and finances.
The FIA announced in a statement on Friday that Kenya would be included in the 14-round World Rally Championship in 2020, following an e-vote by the World Motor Sport Council.
“It is my pleasure today to announce to the people of Kenya and Africa that this process has been concluded and the Safari Rally has been included in the International Automobile Federation World Rally Championships after 18 years of waiting,” Kenyatta said in a statement.
Kenyatta has lobbied hard for the return of the rally to the WRC.
Rallies in New Zealand and Japan will also make a return to the world stage in 2020 while the rallies in Corsica, Australia and Spain have been dropped.
“In order to further globalise the championship, we need to have more WRC rounds outside Europe. I am glad to see the results of our expansion strategy, with emblematic events such as Kenya and Japan coming back to the WRC calender next year,” FIA Rally Director Yves Matton said in a statement.
“Following the integration of Chile last year, the 2020 calender also expands our presence on both the Asian and African continents.”
The Safari rally was started as an East African competition between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to celebrate the coronation of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Considered one of the world’s toughest rallies, covering over 1,000km across rugged east African savannah, the competition attracted top overseas drivers.
Past winners included Britain’s Colin McRae, Spaniard Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Ari Vatanen of Finland.
“The Safari holds iconic status across East Africa, with fans from countries like Uganda and Tanzania as enthusiastic about the rally as those from Kenya itself,” WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla said on the championship’s website.
“Its heritage will be recalled by all, but at the same time this is a modern-era Safari that sits comfortably alongside our other 13 rounds.
“That doesn’t mean its challenge is diminished and we can be sure 2020’s version will test our drivers, teams and cars to the full,” he added.
The Kenyan rally will be held between July 16-19, 2020
FULL STATEMENT PRESIDENT KENYATTA ON SAFARI RALLY
The Safari Rally as it is known today was first held in Kenya in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It started as the East African Safari Rally traversing the three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The Rally developed to become the toughest Rally in the world and was regarded as a true test of man and machine.
In 1973, the Safari was admitted to the prestigious International Automobile Federation (FIA) World Rally Championship (WRC) held within the boundaries of Kenya.
The Safari Rally continued to enjoy International Automobile Federation World Rally Championship status until the year 2002 when the event was dropped from the World Rally Championship and relegated to the African Rally Championship (ARC).
Before my Administration assumed office in 2013, I made a promise to the people of Kenya, to return the Safari Rally back to the International Automobile Federation World Rally Championship family. This process has taken us seven years.
It is my pleasure today to announce to the people of Kenya and Africa that this process has been concluded and the Safari Rally has been included in the International Automobile Federation World Rally Championship 2020 Calendar, marking the return of the World Rally Championship to Kenya and Africa, after 18 years of waiting.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the President of the International Automobile Federation, Mr. Jean Todt, the World Rally Championship Promoter Mr. Oliver Ciesla, the Chairman of the Kenya Motorsports Federation, Mr. Phineas Kimathi and the Directors and Technical teams, for working with my Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage through the World Rally Championship Safari Rally project, to deliver this iconic event that forms part of our national heritage.
My Administration will continue to work with the relevant bodies to ensure that the 2020 Safari Rally and successive events thereafter, are hosted successfully.
It is, therefore, my pleasure to lead all the people of Kenya in welcoming the 2020 International Automobile Federation World Rally Championship Kenya Safari Rally back to our Land and Nation.
I thank you. God bless you.