Baldev looking forward to Safari elevation to WRC

Kenyan Champion Baldev Singh Chager is looking forward to the WRC Safari Rally with great expectations.

The Safari was scheduled for July 16-17 but was pushed to 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

The reigning Safari Champion says home drivers have an opportunity to brush shoulders with the big boys of global series when the fabled Safari Rally revisits the glamour and intensity of FIA World Rally Championship next year.

But Chager candidly admits defending the coveted Safari title against WRC’s crème de la crème will be a tall order given the intricate nature of their high-flying WRC machines.

The KNRC log leader after KCB Guru Nanak and Nyahururu Rally reckons that fast stage times anticipated from WRC teams will nevertheless help local drivers up their game and approach the Safari with the much-needed aggression and gusto.

Chager has only driven in one WRC Safari in 1998 whereby he finished 15th overall with Tinu Khan in a Subaru Legacy.

“From the current group of drivers, I think it’s only myself, Ian (Duncan) and Carl (Tundo) that have done the proper Safari when it counted towards the world series. The Safari at the time was a very long endurance drive and quite different from the present day sprint format we are going to expect next year.

All in all, it will be an amazing feeling being a part of WRC Safari. As locals we have an advantage of local knowledge and experience. A perfect example is the WRC candidate Safari which we won last year. We managed to win it on the very last stage at Kedong.

The whole rally we were lying second and Manvir (Baryan) was leading. But there was a huge amount of dust on a 100m stretch. How Manvir tackled the dust and how we tackled was very different.

He sucked in all the dust while Tundo and I managed to avoid it by literally keeping one foot in the side.”

“You also have to remember that WRC drivers have a lot of experience from the whole world from racing in the desert to Argentina to Europe and rough gravel in Greece.

So they’re not far behind and if you look at most of their team managers are actually rally drivers. The WRC car has everything modified to it from the engine, transmission to suspension travel. The R5 cars currently being run in Kenya are a step lower than the WRC car. The R4 cars that we drive are standard production cars homologated by the FIA but running with a standard engine, meaning we there is no hope that any local can beat a WRC driver. But the fact that we will run the same route, it will help us compare our times and pull up our socks.”

The world toughest rally is among nine events confirmed for inclusion in the 2021 WRC season, according to resolutions recently passed by the global governing body FIA’s World Motor Sport Council (WMSC).

Safari returned to the global series after an 18 -year hiatus but was postponed from 2020 to 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

WRC Safari Rally chief executive officer, Phineas Kimathi, says his secretariat is still working on initial timelines that assume the rally was still running on its initial dates of July 16 to 19.

Kimathi last weekend led a high-powered WRC Safari Rally management team on update visits of the Service Park in Naivasha, along with Kenya Ports Authority’s Inland Container Depot.

The visiting party included Safari Rally Event Director Jim Kahumbura and Rose Wachuka, Chief of Staff and Policy Advisor in the Ministry of Sport who is also in the rally’s organising committee.

Also in the entourage were WRC Safari Rally officials Julius Kabiru (Head of Security), Kimathi Maingi (Member of the Organising Committee and also a Director at Kenya Railways) and Anthony Gatei (Service Park Manager). Kimathi said: “We are following the initial schedule that we had set out for this year’s Safari Rally, assuming everything needed to be ready for July 15,” Kimathi explained.

“We had targeted to finish the Service Park by last week, but because of the Covid-19 situation, work slowed down a bit but even then, the contractor has done 75 percent of the work already.”