After a year ravaged by Covid-19 pandemic, Kenyans are dizzy with the news of the return of the legendary Safari Rally.

It has been 19 long years since the Safari Rally was held as a global event, but thanks to the government efforts, the long wait is coming to an end this month as the motor sport comes back roaring with a new look.

Easter holidays in Kenya always meant the Safari Rally, regarded as the toughest motor event in the world. Millions of Kenyans turned out along the 5,500-kilometer route to watch this classic race. It lasted five days, ending on Easter Monday, and covered huge areas of the country — from the chills, hills, and possibly spills of the Mt. Kenya highlands to the hot Indian Ocean coast and way up to the arid areas of the north.

The Safari Rally began in 1953, when 57 local drivers, in ordinary cars, struggled around Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika (then still under British rule). Originally known as the East African Coronation Safari, it was a delightfully amateur event: no winner was declared, no service crews were allowed, and repairs had to be done by the participants themselves (although it was permitted to use a dealer workshop en route).

Famous drivers

For years, famous drivers from Europe never won. The local drivers stayed ahead. The myth was broken in 1972, however, when Hannu Mikkola of Finland and Gunnar Palm of Sweden won. Ove Andersson of Sweden became the second driver from Europe to win, in 1975. Bjorn Waldegaard won in 1977 and Jean-Pierre Nicolas in 1978.

Racing in the 2021 WRC Safari Rally scheduled for June 24-27 in Kenya will be a dream come true for Swedish-Norwegian teenager driver Oliver Solberg.

The 19-year-old was not yet born when his father Petter Solberg debuted at the event in 1999 in a Ford Focus. Then aged 24 and one of the youngest in Ford’s team at the time, the elder Solberg finished a credible fifth.

Naivasha, the host of the sporting event is already lively with all kinds of preparations with the hospitality sector expected to reap from arrivals of both local and international participants for the 4-day long event.

The event will be televised to the largest audience of all international sporting events after the Olympics. Over 850 million viewers are expected to follow the event in its 14 rounds with a total of 13,452 broadcast hours projected through the event. This will in a positive way put Kenya back on the world map as a tourist destination.