WHO WILL IT BE?

Ogier, Loeb or Kalle tipped to rule next month's WRC Safari Rally

However, Mombasa navigator Victor Okundi believes Kalle will call the shots this season

In Summary

•Azar said the French duo of Sébastien Ogier and his namesake Sébastien Loeb or Kalle Rovanperä will be three big names to watch during the event for June 23-25 event in Nairobi and Naivasha.

•He said each of the three teams (M-Sport Ford, Hyundai and Toyota Gazoo Racing) has a realistic chance of winning the Kenyan round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).

WRC Safari Rally winner Sébastien Ogier in action during last year's Safari Rally
WRC Safari Rally winner Sébastien Ogier in action during last year's Safari Rally
Image: FILE

Three-time Kenya champion and 2006 Safari Rally winner Azar Anwar believes next month’s WRC Safari Rally Kenya be a three-horse race.

Azar said the French duo of Sébastien Ogier and his namesake Sébastien Loeb or Kalle Rovanperä will be three big names to watch during the event for June 23-25 event in Nairobi and Naivasha.

He said each of the three teams (M-Sport Ford, Hyundai and Toyota Gazoo Racing) has a realistic chance of winning the Kenyan round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).

“The elite drivers’ lineup is incredible. WRC Safari Rally promises to be a titanic battle. I’m wondering if finally, a youngster will trump the veterans,” he quipped.

He said: “Safari Rally needs a tactical and cautious approach and I expect the veterans to conserve their machines to fight for a win on the last day,” explained Azar.

However, Mombasa navigator Victor Okundi believes Kalle will call the shots this season. He is convinced that Kalle has found his niche and he is very comfortable. “Kalle’s pace is untouchable and he’s always exhibiting next level, self-control and assertion. He, however, must keep his head in the championship fight,” he noted.

Okundi added: “Safari, on the other hand, will most likely go to either of the Sebs. My money is on Loeb because the current generation of the M-Sport Ford is really good. Hyundai drivers still haven’t found the mojo.”

“Lately Neuville looks like he’s really over-driving it to get results so Hyundai is not likely to be impressive on Safari,” said Okundi.

Former Kenya 2WD navigators’ champion Wayne Fernandes, on his part, commented: “This year, it’s Gazoo all the way. I have been a Toyota fan from the days of the Toyota Celica with Carlos Sainz. Ian Duncan and the late Jonathan Toroitich aka JT,”

Fernandes went on: “This is Kalle’s year and with Seb as his teammate, the Toyotas will dictate the pace from the start to end.”

Dennis Mwenda, former Kenya 2WD drivers’ champion, said:  “Before the fesh fesh last year, Kalle was way ahead of all of them and well on course for unprecedented success.

“This year, in my opinion, it’ll depend on the road positions. I think the experience of Ogier and Loeb will really count but let’s see how Kalle performs in Portugal as it’s a gravel event like Kenya that is being graced by both Ogier and Loeb”

Mwenda thinks if Kalle wins in Portugal from the start or sets some good times on the first day, then he would tip him to win the Safari.

“No one can march (Ott) Tanak’s pace when he is on the form. The problem is that Neuville takes advantage and beats him. However, I like Neuville. He’s a good driver and a cool guy too,” Mwenda narrated.

It had been a 19-year wait and despite the global outbreak of Covid-19 the last two years, last year’s event didn’t disappoint.

Famously known for its energy-sapping stage runs, the Safari had lost none of what once made it the world’s toughest fixture.