Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20) will participate in the Safari Rally in Kenya from Thursday, which will make its first appearance in the world championship since 2002. Unlike in the past, the cars are not adapted to a particularly demanding and treacherous course.
Thierry Neuville spoke to the press after a long working day on Tuesday evening. “During the reconnaissance, we were quite shaken up. In addition, the locals drive very slowly and the animals come from all over. It was a constant watch out,” said Neuville.
Unlike the editions in the 80s and 90s, the rally cars that start on Thursday in the shakedown are not equipped with an extra bumper to protect the cars in the event of contact with an animal, nor is the well-known snorkel attached. the side when a large pool of water has to be forded. “There are also no real large ponds or rivers that we have to wade through. Rain is not immediately forecast either. Still, I would have liked to see the cars reinforced, but the FIA didn’t want to change its regulations for this race. We are especially concerned about the wild animals. During the explorations we saw a lot of them. At that moment you can still anticipate, during a match that is a lot more difficult. The helicopter that used to accompany the cars and alert drivers to the presence of wild animals is no longer there either. So we are a bit on our own. The organization does everything it can to guarantee a safe course. I’m not worried about meeting a moped, car or bus on the trail, but animals are unpredictable. You have to accept that sometimes you will lose some time.”
The Safari in 2021 is largely comparable to the old Safari in terms of course. “Besides being shorter, the rides are similar to what the riders used to have to deal with. The big difference is that today’s cars are much stronger compared to the past and can take a lot more. The difficulty of this rally is therefore to find the balance between on the one hand not going too slow to save the material and on the other hand not going too fast and demanding too much of the car. If we can go fast, I want to, but you can’t really draw a line. It could be that you’re driving a whole rally at 96 percent and have no problem at all, while it could just as well be that when you’re running at 80 percent of your power you’re going from one problem to another. Maybe the driver with the luckiest luck will win this race.”
“In any case, it will be a great adventure and a fast race. There are some long straights of about two kilometers. That is not a motorway, because one time we have to drive on the left to avoid a pit and the other time we have to turn right. It winds quite a bit, but apart from that we get speeds of around 200 kilometers per hour.”