Major boost for Kenya as Safari Rally to stay on world circuit until 2026

Following a successful return to the World Rally Championship last year after two decades out in the cold, the Safari Rally has now cemented its place on the global circuit until 2026.

Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed and WRC Promoter GmbH Managing Director Jona Siebel on Sunday signed the contract extension in an event promotion agreement that will see the WRC Promoter GmbH (the World Rally Championship’s marketing agents) also engage in talent development and environmental conservation partnerships with Kenya.

The ceremony was held at the Automobile Club of Monaco on the sidelines of the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, won by Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, and also witnessed by WRC Safari Rally Chief Executive Officer Phineas Kimathi and Simon Larkin, Event Director at the WRC Promoter GmbH.

Siebel congratulated Kenya for putting up a great rally last year when the Safari celebrated its return to the World Rally Championship after 19 years out of the global calendar.

He noted that the extension of the contract with the Safari Rally to 2026 was the longest the WRC Promoter had ever signed, adding that having a strong African round of the World Rally Championship was important to the series.

“Having such an iconic event with such a strong tradition, heritage and the whole passion of the people means a lot for the growth of the WRC as a global championship,” he said.

“It’s by far the longest contract we have ever signed and this is a strong, strong statement, isn’t it?”

Siebel singled out the government support for the WRC Safari Rally as being crucial to the competition’s long-term inclusion in the World Rally Championship.

“We feel and see such a strong commitment from President (Uhuru) Kenyatta – and I say thank you Mr President – to Dr Amina Mohamed to all the volunteers… it’s such a strong commitment and such strong energy and power, and we are very thankful for that and I can’t wait to be back in Kenya this season,” Siebel said at the signing ceremony.

CS Amina thanked the WRC and the International Automobile Federation (FIA) for the support they had accorded Kenya in growing the Safari Rally.

“Due to our close co-operation and partnership with FIA and WRC and the activation of the different support programmes in Kenya, young Safari Rally drivers now have the hope for a future where they compete in the world’s most prestigious rally championships and be ranked alongside the world’s greatest rally drivers,” the Cabinet Secretary said.

She noted that the FIA and WRC’s decision to have the Safari Rally back onto the global circuit has also left an “indelible mark in Kenya’s motorsports sector.”

“It also reclaimed our heritage, transformed our small and medium size enterprises during the rally,” she explained, noting that last year’s Safari was among the most followed competitions on the circuit with millions of social media impressions globally.

Amina noted that the WRC Safari Rally was the realisation of one of President Kenyatta’s pre-election pledges.

“The Safari Rally is one of the flagship projects of His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of the Republic of Kenya, who played a key role in its return in 2021, after a 19-year hiatus; a promise that he pledged in 2013, and kept,” she said.

“Thanks to His Excellency, the government has reaffirmed its commitment to the WRC circuit and promises to collaborate with the FIA to ensure the growth of World Rally Championship by funding the project in Kenya for the next five years and beyond.”

In one of the amendments of the the event promotion agreement signed on Sunday, Kenya will host the WRC Safari Rally until December 2023, having lost the first year of our previous agreement (2020) to Covid-19 pandemic.

The second amendment further seeks to extend the competition in Kenya until December, 2026.

Another agreement reached is the inclusion of the winner of the African Rally Championship in one World Rally Championship event in a WRC 2 car.

The partnership will also see the 2021 FIA Africa Rally Championship Junior Champion driver and navigator to join the Junior WRC Driver programme, which is supported by motorsport engineering company M-Sport.

McRae Kimathi was the junior champion last year, finishing sixth overall in the Africa Rally Championships’ driver standings.

“M-Sport has agreed to support the FIA Rally Star programme in Kenya by entering a number of cars in a number of events in the FIA African Rally Championship,” Amina noted, adding that the government will also push to grow the Women in Motorsports programme, promote legacy projects to secure environmental sustainability and improve the conditions of the motorsports host institutions and host counties besides amplifying road safety programmes.

“These legacy projects are anchored on two themes: environmental conservation and action for road safety,” she explained.

“The environmental conservation project targets Kenya’s wetlands affected by climate change, deforestation, Safari Rally and Kenya Motor Sports Federation routes, the service park and the spectator stage at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.

“Our target is to plant 18 million trees in three years. Already we are approaching the three million mark thanks to our dedication to combat the adverse effects of climate change and especially deforestation.”

The WRC Safari Rally’s road safety programme was launched during last year’s competition where the safe helmets initiative was also launched by then FIA President Jean Todt and President Kenyatta.

“This programme will bolster the safety prerogatives put in place by the Safari Safety, Security and Medical teams. It is our considered position that motorsports can positively and impactfully contribute to sustainability,” the CS noted.

Meanwhile, Amina confirmed that plans for this year’s WRC Safari Rally, that will run from June 23 to 26 in Nairobi and Naivasha, are in full gear with all necessary resources made available.

“We want to confirm that we are in the final stages of preparing for the 2022 edition of the Safari Rally,” she told the WRC Promoter officials.

“The route has been GPRS mapped and other logistical preparations put in place to ensure the event is bigger and better than ever before.

“The government has availed the resources necessary to execute this event and will continue to do so to meet the standards expected by His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta, the FIA, WRC and the Kenyan public.”

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