Return of Safari Rally sparks excitement in Kenya

Quiet for 19 years, the Safari Rally returned to Kenya on Thursday with thousands of fans gathered in Nairobi for the historic moment in Africa.

Known for its tough and rugged races across the savannah and escarpment, the race fell off the world circuit in 2002 due to safety, organizational and financial concerns.

But on Thursday, thousands of supporters from across East Africa began arriving in the Kenyan capital at dawn, six hours before the contestants were flagged by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“I got there really early because I didn’t want to miss the cars,” said Becky Kamau, who had pulled her 10-year-old son out of school to attend the event.

The Safari Rally’s planned return last year was aborted due to the coronavirus pandemic which disrupted sporting events and saw Kenya block international arrivals, preventing foreign drivers from attending.

Many enthusiastic spectators, lining the city streets and waving flags, wore face masks.

“It doesn’t concern me when we sit outside,” said George Wamai, 53, of being banned from the meeting place due to social distancing measures.

“I’ve been a fan for a long time but didn’t follow (the championship) when it was cut short. This comeback is such an achievement,” said the retired official.

Like him, many older fans grew nostalgic, remembering the joy of the roaring engines roaring in their neighborhoods and villages, and fondly remembering when they would get their hands dirty pushing rally cars out of the way. mud.

– ‘Rubbing’ –

For a young generation, it was a first experience, but one which was even more promising than the past races.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Samwel Mwangi, 22. “I didn’t get to see it back then, but with the development of technology, new routes and hybrid cars, it’s a new experience for everyone.”

During the 4.84 km opening super special outside Kasarani Stadium on the northern outskirts of Nairobi, locals, eager to spot the cars, spilled onto the course, causing the race to stop. several pilots.

Ugandan spectator Thadeo Ssemanda said nothing could stop him from traveling from Kampala to see the rally, leaving the country a week before it was brought under control.

“We sympathized with our Kenyan brothers when the Safari Rally was withdrawn from the World Rally Championship, but today we are happy that the event is back on the track,” said Ssemanda.

The excitement was appropriate for the return of a pre-independence Kenyan race rooted in imperial adventurism when a group of British colonial farmers decided in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in tearing apart East Africa in five days, 6,000- kilometer (3,300 mile) rally.

This year’s edition will however be more tamed than its predecessors, which have covered a total of 1,010 km. The new format is closer to modern European rallies with 18 special stages totaling 320.19 km.

Kenya’s hospitality industry, which has suffered a sharp decline due to the pandemic, hopes to cash in on hotel bookings in the town on Lake Naivasha, where most of the competitions take place.

However, the government banned the nighttime festivities that were, in the past, synonymous with the buccaneer spirit of the Safari Rally.

aik-ho / tmc / iwd / dj

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