NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 28 – The Federation Internationale de Automobile (FIA) President, Jean Todt is impressed by the level of commitment Kenya is making towards the re-admission of the Safari Rally back to the FIA World Championship (WRC) by 2020.
Todt was speaking on Tuesday when he opened the WRC Safari Rally Project headquarters in Nairobi.
It was a ceremony tinged with emotions as he came face to face with a photograph of himself as a dashing navigator of Timo Makinen in a Peugeot 504 taken 40 years ago sliding through mud in a passage control back to the car after his time card was stamped.
“It is with emotions that I am here today in Nairobi to open the WRC Safari Rally Project. A lot of things came to my mind when I saw that photograph in the small headquarters when I was 27 years old,” said Todt.
“East African Safari was the reference point in the world of motorsport. If you are not a local then you cannot win was the reputation of the Safari in the rest of the world,” said Todt who made a stopover in Nairobi.
Earlier he held private talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta who pledged his support for a WRC Safari as part of his legacy in his second and final term in office. The government has pumped in US$2.5 million in this financial year.
In response Todt said he was impressed by the progress so far compared to three years ago.
“It is Speed for action,” he said as the FIA and himself personally wants the Safari back in the WRC. It will not be an endurance event but as a national asset, it will offer the world a glimpse of the “most beautiful country in the world from Mount Kenya to the sandy beaches of Mombasa.”
“I took part in eight times. My heroes were people like Joginder Singh, Nick Norwicki and Shankland (Bert),” he added.
“I say it was a reference because I took part in eight times and never finished apart from 1973 when we finished third with Ove Andersson,” He said this demonstrated the uniqueness of the event as an asset for Kenya which markets the “most beautiful country in the world.” .
He admitted that he was very sad when the Safari lost the WRC status in 2002. But Kenya must match commitment with action and meet all conditions required of it was meaningful he expressed his satisfaction with the progress Kenya is making including the government’s support and use of closed roads.
“Today I met with President Kenyatta who pulled me aside and told me that he wants the Safari back in the WRC as part of his legacy,” said Todt, who added that this is the first meaningful commitment he has seen from the government in the last 15 years.
He also praised the Kenyan private sector for the role it is playing to actualize the Safari dream.
“I am your friend but you must deliver. I would want a good Safari used to promote road safety in Africa, “added Todt who is the United Nations Secretary General Special Envoy on Road Safety.
Kenya Principal Secretary in the sports ministry Peter Kaberia said the government’s commitment towards the Safari is total and the crown in the jewel will certainly return home. So far apart from the free office blocks, the government has committed US$2.5 million towards the project.
The Chief Executive Officer of the WRC Safari Rally project Phineas Kimathi enumerated the journey so far covered in the last two years since meeting Todt in Europe in 2016.
Kenya’s largest KCB Group CEO Joshua Oigara said the private sector is fully behind the Safari because of its unique position as a national asset.