The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team is set to make a comeback at the renowned Safari Rally Kenya from June 22-25, with the aim of maintaining its impressive track record on this challenging African event. Celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, the Safari Rally is widely recognized as one of the most demanding tests in rallying and was reintroduced to the FIA World Rally Championship schedule in 2021. Since then, TGR-WRT has emerged victorious in both editions held, culminating in a remarkable 1-2-3-4 finish last year and securing Toyota’s unprecedented 10th win on the event.
This year, all four drivers who contributed to that historic outcome are returning. Kalle Rovanperä, the reigning world champion and current leader in the standings with a 25-point advantage, triumphed in the previous year, followed closely by Elfyn Evans. They will be joined by Sébastien Ogier, the winner of the 2021 Safari Rally, forming the team’s lineup as manufacturers. Additionally, Takamoto Katsuta, who secured his first podium finishes in the WRC during the Kenyan rallies of ’21 and ’22, will pilot an extra GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID, supported by the TGR WRC Challenge Program.
Formerly known for its lengthy stages held on public roads, the Safari Rally has undergone changes to align with the format of modern WRC rounds, while still retaining its distinctive set of challenges. The gravel stages encompass various terrains, ranging from rough and rocky sections to soft and treacherous sandy areas. Additionally, weather conditions, especially rain, can rapidly transform the surface from dry and dusty to muddy and slippery.
Similar to the previous year, the rally route follows a familiar pattern. Shakedown occurs on Wednesday, leading up to the event’s official start from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, on Thursday at midday. The competitive action commences with the Kasarani super special stage located nearby. Friday revolves around Lake Naivasha, situated approximately 100 kilometers northwest of Nairobi, which also serves as the location for the service park. The day consists of a counterclockwise loop of three stages around the lake, repeated twice with a mid-day service break. Saturday stands as the longest day of the rally, guiding participants north to Lake Elmenteita for another set of three repeated tests. On Sunday, two more sets of three stages take place around Lake Naivasha, starting with a revised version of the Malewa stage last featured in 2021 and concluding with the rally-ending Power Stage, Hell’s Gate. Throughout the weekend, a total of 355.92 competitive kilometers will be covered.
In addition to the competition, a test car called the Hilux MHEV, representing a concept vehicle, will be driven in Kenya. This endeavor aims to showcase and explore options for achieving carbon neutrality, particularly in markets like Africa that possess underdeveloped infrastructure. Behind the wheel of the Hilux MHEV will be Juha Kankkunen, the Toyota rally legend and three-time Safari Rally champion.
“The Safari Rally has been a really exciting event for us in the last two years and of course we hope we can achieve another good result this time around, but we know it will not be easy. We have seen that the modern Safari has the same spirit as before: it’s the longest and toughest rally in the championship and very different to the others, as it’s more about endurance and surviving stages that can be really difficult for the cars. For our engineers and mechanics, it’s a busy week, preparing and adapting the cars for the changing conditions. And for the drivers, patience is crucial to be able to push hard in the right moments, and not when it’s too rough. All four of our drivers have shown they have what it takes to succeed in Kenya and are ready for the challenge.”Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal)
“I’m looking forward to going back to Kenya. I have really enjoyed the event both times we have been there. Already in 2021, we were going quite well until we got stuck in the sand. Then, last year, it was of course very special to win with a perfect result for the team. It’s a rally that can depend a lot on the weather, because the conditions can change completely from one year to another. That makes it a really big challenge, but it’s one that suits us quite well, I think. Let’s see what the conditions will be like this year and hopefully we can have another strong weekend and score more good points for the championship.”Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)
“It’s always difficult to know what we can expect on the Safari Rally, which is what makes it such a challenge for the teams and the crews. Most of the route will be the same as last year, but we know that the conditions can vary massively: not only from one year to the next, but also from one section of stage to another. We’ve already experienced a lot of different conditions there over the past couple of years, so we have been looking back through those events to prepare as best as we can, but we also need to be ready to adapt to whatever we face during the week. As a team we had a fantastic rally last year and hopefully we can be strong again.”Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)
“I have really enjoyed the experience of going to Kenya these past two years and this is the main reason why I wanted to return again. It’s something very different from what we are used to, and the country and its people are amazing. The rally is very tough and we know that luck can be a big factor: in 2021 it was possible for me to come back from more than two minutes behind to win, as almost everybody had an issue at some point. Every rally I start, I try to win, and we will give it everything like always. I hope we got all our bad luck out of the way in Sardinia and that fortune will be on our side this time.”Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 17)