NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 20 – National Championship Premier Class driver Eric Bengi believes the much-awaited comeback of the fabled Safari Rally to the FIA World Rally Championship(WRC) calendar is a perfect opportunity to reignite local drivers’ talent.
The former KNRC Two Wheel, Division One and Group N Champion also believes racing against the big boys of WRC will trigger the much-needed gusto for locals to attack.
“I know for sure that the WRC drivers will whip us out clean but it will be a learning lesson to come back, reset and reflect on what makes them tick and how differently they do their things. I’m sure we’ll all be eager to see what it is that we can learn to become better motorsport people,”Bengi says,
He adds; “It will make us drive on the limit, so thrills and spills are guaranteed. Give Safari three to four years and you will actually see competition from this country. Last year we went out as a team to Zambia to compete in the ARC event. This year we had big intentions to go do a few East African Rally Championship events but this was distracted by the pandemic situation.”
Bengi will be one of the many drivers from the current crop of Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) speedsters to debut at the iconic WRC Safari which will be held next year.
From the current group of KNRC drivers, only reigning national and Safari Champion Baldev Chager, Ian Duncan and Carl ‘Flash” Tundo have graced the WRC Safari event.
Legendary Duncan was the last Kenyan driver to lay his hands on a WRC Safari title when he won the 42nd Trust Bank Safari Rally in 1994.
Duncan, Mike Kirkland, Vic Preston Senior/Junior, Shekhar Mehta, Joginder Singh and Patrick Njiru were among the locals who featured prominently back in the Safari day.
Having run a WRC round 18 years ago, Kenya made the step up to top flight action this year, but the event was pushed to next year due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Safari is a good thing to happen. Let me just say that in Africa, Kenya ranks amongst countries with the best drivers among them Manvir (Baryan) who has won the African Championship three years in a row.,”
“To bring the Safari back to WRC is definitely great, thanks to the dedicated WRC Safari Project team led by CEO Phineas Kimathi” added Bengi, who insists there will be a great deal of knowledge transfer.
“There was a lot of knowledge transfer to the locals in all facets of the sport throughout the years. I believe the WRC drivers will give us a shock therapy which will work to build our driving lines. It’s just like when Tapio (Laukkanen) came to Kenya. He gave us a shock therapy and everyone was playing catch-up. I’m sure the WRC is an opportunity to improve our game locally.”
The Safari was notorious for being by far the WRC’s toughest round. A Safari win was one of motorsport’s most coveted prizes for manufacturers.
The nature of the rally, organised by the WRC Safari Rally Project, a joint venture between the Kenyan Government Sports Ministry and the Kenya Motor Sports Federation, has evolved to fit the modern-day WRC.
The Safari was first held in 1953 as a celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and covered Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika (now Tanzania).
Ugandan-born Kenyan Shekhar Mehta holds the record for Safari WRC wins with five victories, including four consecutively. Former world champions Björn Waldegård (four), Juha Kankkunen and Colin McRae (both three) were all acknowledged Safari masters.
The rally will be based in Nairobi with the service park and stages located near Lakes Naivasha and Elmenteita, north-west of the city in the Great Rift Valley.