Technicalities, Thrills & Facts: The World Rally Championship Explained

The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team at Safaricom’s meet and greet on Wednesday, March 27.
Emmanuel Korir

The highly anticipated World Rally Championship (WRC) roared to life on Wednesday, March 27, with the shakedown heralding the start of the 72nd Safari Rally Kenya. 

For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of this exhilarating motorsport event, here's a comprehensive guide to help you navigate through the rally, from understanding the drivers and stages to how winners are determined.

Intense Competition and Excitement

The WRC is the pinnacle of rally racing, featuring drivers, co-drivers, and hybrid-powered production-based cars facing some of the toughest terrains across the globe.

Established in 1973, it spans 13 rallies across four continents and 13 countries. The battle unfolds across multiple categories, including the Drivers', Co-Drivers', and the Manufacturers' Championship.

Support Championships and Contests

In addition to the main championship (WRC), there are support championships such as WRC2 and WRC3. The Junior WRC is contested on selected events of the FIA World Rally Championship calendar.

Notably, the Safari Rally Kenya marks the third event of an increasingly thrilling WRC season, with only three points separating the top two drivers, Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans, in the provisional standings.

French rally driver Adrien Fourmaux and Safaricom’s Chief Finance Officer Esther Waititu in a race car on Wednesday, March 27.
Emmanuel Korir

The battle in WRC2 will see Carl Tundo, driving a Ford Fiesta, contesting for the title one more time. However, he faces a stern test from the likes of Oliver Solberg, Gus Greensmith, Nicolas Ciamin, and Kajetan Kajetanowicz, all vying for victory.

KCB-sponsored Karan Patel should also not be ruled out, and nor should FIA Junior WRC regular Diego Domínguez, who will make his WRC2 debut in a Citroën C3.

Other Kenyans in the mix include Safaricom-backed Hamza Anwar, Andrew Muiruri, and Aakif Virani, who will also be contesting for the top prize.

Rally Line-Up and Teams

The Safari Rally Kenya witnesses the participation of three formidable teams, each fielding three cars. 
Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team leads the charge with Thierry Neuville, Ott Tänak, and Esapekka Lappi.

Meanwhile, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team boasts Adrien Fourmaux, Grégoire Munster, and Jourdan Serderidis. 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT, spearheaded by Elfyn Evans, also features Takamoto Katsuta and Kalle Rovanperä, the 2022 Safari winner.

Return to Tradition and Challenges Ahead

Traditionally held during the Easter weekend, the Safari Rally Kenya returns to its iconic slot in 2024, marking the first gravel-based round of the year. 

The event coincides with Kenya's rainy season, adding an extra layer of challenge for drivers as they navigate the rugged East African terrain.

Rally Dynamics and Points System

Each rally comprises timed special stages on closed roads, with drivers aiming to complete them as swiftly as possible while adhering to their co-driver's pace notes. 

Points for drivers and co-drivers are awarded based on their performance throughout the rally, culminating in a perfect score of 30.

The route consists of 19 stages covering a distance of 367.76 kilometres, largely unchanged from the previous year.

Rally Timetable and Structure

Rallies follow a structured timetable, starting with reconnaissance and shakedown before the official start on Thursday night. The competition spans four days, concluding with the rally-closing Power Stage on Sunday.

Notably, the rally features a mix of new and familiar stages, providing a rigorous test for participants.

Service Park and Penalties

Competitors visit the service park for mechanical work at predetermined intervals during the day. Strict regulations govern service time, with penalties imposed for exceeding allotted durations.

Moreover, time penalties are incurred for late arrivals at control points, ensuring fair competition throughout the rally.

Retirements and Second Chances

Competitors facing mechanical issues or accidents may restart the following day, subject to safety considerations.

However, missed stages result in time penalties, further challenging teams to maintain consistency and resilience amidst the demanding conditions.

The Safari Rally Kenya promises to deliver thrilling action and intense competition as drivers battle the elements and each other for supremacy in one of the most challenging events on the WRC calendar. 

The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team vehicle engineer, Josh Harbour, explaining details of the rally car March 2024.
Emmanuel Korir
  • .