KENYA - The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team heads to one of the most iconic rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) for Safari Rally Kenya, round six of the 2022 WRC calendar.
It has been another tight turnaround for the team, buoyed by its recent success and strong showing in Sardinia for Rally d’Italia, where Craig Breen claimed a well-earned second position backed up by Pierre-Louis Loubet in fourth.
Safari Rally is an exciting opportunity for all as nine-time world champion, Sébastien Loeb, returns to the squad for his third appearance in a Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1 this year. He returns to Kenya 20 years after his one and only Safari Rally experience to date when he claimed fifth overall. Since then, the Frenchman went on to break almost every record achievable in the sport, most notably claiming nine consecutive world titles. While the distance of the Safari Rally Loeb faced in 2002 is three-times that of today’s iteration, the stages remain as tough as Loeb’s own determination. And Loeb’s form hasn’t relented over time, increasing his record tally of WRC victories to 80 thanks to victory on Rallye Monte-Carlo with M-Sport back in January. His last outing with the Cumbria-based outfit saw him set stage-winning pace and lead Rally de Portugal before retiring from the event to due a terminal engine problem.
Safari Rally Kenya will be the ultimate durability test for the Puma Hybrid Rally1 cars, as well as a crucial assessment of how well crews can read the developing terrain, in order to identify which parts of stages to attack and which to simply survive through. What makes the event so special are the breath-taking views of flat-out WRC thoroughbreds leaving behind huge dust trails across awe-inspiring vistas littered with wildlife usually found in National Geographic.
The 2022 Safari Rally will compete across a bumper 362.62 kilometres, which could see the total time of the rally exceed three and a half hours after 2021’s itinerary competed a shorter distance, close to three hours and twenty minutes. It wasn’t short of drama either, last year taught everyone that despite it being a condensed version of the original Safari Rally, the stages themselves hadn’t been watered down in the slightest. The event was so demanding, that of the 56 entrants, only 11 crews completed every stage of the rally and only 26 finished the event.
The rally returned to WRC in 2021 with much anticipation and excitement after a near 20-year absence. Its return was met with huge amounts of passion and enthusiasm as the rally itself did not disappoint, with M-Sport challenging for the podium despite the Fiesta WRC’s scaled back development programme. The 2021 edition of the rally is a particular highlight for Adrien Fourmaux too, who set five top-three stage times and claimed his maiden WRC stage win on the final day of the rally. In the end, Fourmaux claimed a hard-earned fifth overall as Gus Greensmith claimed a career-best finish of fourth overall, positions both crews can expect to try and better on their second visit to the Kenyan classic.
Safari Rally sees M-Sport claim another first in the new hybrid era of WRC with Jourdan Serderidis becoming the first privateer to compete in the Rally1 category, using an M-Sport Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1.
Craig Breen, said:
“I am very much looking forward to Kenya and discovering what seems to be quite the adventure. For me, I’ll be discovering a new continent, I have never been to Africa before, so I will be soaking it all up.
“The Safari Rally is an incredibly prestigious and historic event that I’ve watched many times on the TV as a kid, so I cannot wait to see what it is all about. It will be a huge challenge for all the crews, but we have prepared well. Sardinia went well, and we want to try to carry that rhythm forward so we will try to bring home another good result this week.”
Sebastien Loeb, said:
“It was nice to be competitive in Portugal, the feeling in the car was good which is encouraging, Kenya is something very different, but it’s better to know we were competitive in Portugal. I don’t know the Kenya of today, all I have seen is onboards, it seems to be rough with big stones so punctures could be an issue.
“Kenya is quite amazing; it is a rally where I have the most memories with wildlife everywhere during the recce. I know the rally is very different to when I last competed there, it is more like a WRC rally, and it is easier to do it this way. The difference for me compared to the other rallies I have competed on this year is I have no experience of the stages in Kenya, I have never done them before so it will be complicated.”
Gus Greensmith, said:
“I am looking forward to Safari Rally Kenya, it is one of the best experiences, probably the best experience of the year to go and compete in Kenya. It is an absolutely beautiful place, but also the stages can be incredibly unforgiving on the cars.
“It is the biggest challenge of the year and probably the only rally where we cannot drive flat out on every stage. We do have to manage the wear of the cars and have some kind of mechanical sympathy. It will be a huge challenge; we were very strong here last year so we hope to have a good result together as team here this year.”
Adrien Fourmaux, said:
“Last year was a great result for the team, especially for me, I was really happy with what we did. Kenya is a really different rally to others, it is not all about pace and it is easier to damage the car because it is so rough. Kenya is really nice as an experience, it is a really different culture, and I will be very happy to see everyone there. Last year there were a lot of spectators, I remember in Nairobi there were a million people watching the cars going through the capital.
“There are a lot of things to say about this rally, the wildlife in the stages is quite impressive when you are driving and it makes the experience so special. You have to watch the side of the road to make sure there is nothing coming!”
Rich Millener, Team Principal, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team, said:
“This will be my first time in Kenya, I am very excited about the rally and just exploring a country I have heard so much about since watching the Safari Rally as a kid on TV. We enjoyed a good performance last year as a team and learned that this rally can be bit of a lottery, but we’ve got a good pool of experience for this one.
“Sebastien Loeb and Safari Rally is a combination nobody thought was possible a few years ago, never mind to be doing the rally in a Ford, which I think everybody is enthusiastic about. Speaking of enthusiasm, the one thing that struck me last year was the sheer scale of how many fans came out to watch this rally. I really cannot wait to share this wonderful sport with more passionate people and hope it highlights how much WRC means to Kenya.”