Safari Rally In Nairobi: Scenes & Thrills From Kasarani Showdown [VIDEOS]

The whole country has mostly been brought to a standstill by a motorsport event that thousands of enthusiasts have followed in Kenya for two years running

Safari Rally In Nairobi: Scenes & Thrills From Kasarani Showdown [VIDEOS]
WRC Rally cars face off in Kasarani, Nairobi on June 22, 2023. /WRC

Today, Thursday, June 22, I decided to shift from being a digital journalist working from home to being on the field. Away from the hullabaloo of politics, and entertainment among others to a unique experience that comes once every year.

Since the Safari Rally made its return to the World Rally Championship (WRC) circuit in 2021 for the first time in 18 years, the whole country has mainly been brought to a standstill by a motorsport event that thousands of enthusiasts have followed in Kenya for two years running now and watched by billions worldwide.

From Thika Road To Kasarani

My day begins pretty much like this; a trek down Thika Road all the way to Kasarani where it looks like traffic along the busy highway heading to Roysambu looks pretty normal, until the first rally car driven by our local driver zooms slowly past me on my way there, on foot.

Then, police close the main road entirely, leaving just the service lane open to all manner of traffic.

Just looking at the time on my phone along the way was enough to let me know that I needed to get to the venue of the Kasarani Super Special Stage (SSS) by at the very least, 2 pm, as the stage was to start five minutes later.

This meant that I had to frantically jog past the popular entrance of Garden City to at least get to the Safari Park bridge.

Meanwhile, the drivers nearly kilometres away into the city were being flagged off by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua at Uhuru Park, who stood in place of President William Ruto as he is currently out of the country on official duties.

A two-minute interval was enough to buy me a bit of time as I continued, still on foot, to the venue.

I got to the bridge on time just to see one of the WRC cars belonging to team M-Sport Ford glide past me on its way, protected by a contingent of several police officers who at the same time were happy to direct fans on how to get to the purpose-built stage on the edge of Nairobi.

I witnessed two rally cars pull to the side, both from Toyota and Hyundai, and their drivers step out of their vehicles. My first thought was to stop by and inquire from a police officer standing guard the reason for the little pit-stop but it would mean that I'd be later than usual or would get a not-so-convincing answer.

My thought when I was approaching the venue was "It's not that far", owing to the cross-checks I did on the venue on Google Maps before I left the house. I was...almost mistaken.

Right in front of the fence surrounding Kasarani Stadium was a whole trip down and up slopes and boulders to where the main action took place. I was not alone.

The Super Special Stage

Thousands of fans were accompanying me and were heading in the same direction I was. President Ruto at one point mentioned how difficult it would be to get Kenyans to work at that time, meaning it was foolish for anyone to underestimate the sheer fanbase in motorsports, especially, at an event which before 2021, the last time we heard of it was from our parents and those in their 30s.

The scenery at the Kasarani Super Special Stage on June 22, 2023. /MARVIN CHEGE.VIRALTEAKE

After nearly 18,000 steps from Thika Road to Kasarani, here I was. Just in time for our local drivers to show an enthusiastic crowd that consisted of primary school pupils in uniform what they have been practising for a very long time.

For those who've not been to this point yet, hear it from is as close as you will ever get to seeing particles of dust get near your face thanks to the rally cars zooming past you, trying to outcompete each other.

In this stage, two cars go head-to-head, travelling at speeds that even shocked the President at the shakedown. It's like a race duel, beat your opponent on the 4.8km circuit on a custom-built track and set the fastest time going into the main event in Naivasha.

Two highlights stood out for me at the time; a helicopter which was hovering almost metres above ground to film the drivers in action and me standing next to school children who happily cheered as the cars dashed past us, leaving behind a trail of dust.

I was particularly impressed by Estonian Ott Tänak's driving that day, and I would be vindicated as he achieved a flying start with a win on the opening stage, continuing his push for a first-ever victory on African soil.

The 2019 World Rally Champion beat Frenchman Sebastien Ogier by a mere 0.1 seconds through the scintillating 4.84-kilometre speed test.

Defending Safari champion Kalle Rovanpera came through the twin-track test 2.4 seconds behind the leader, incidentally on the same stage where he almost rolled his GR Yaris Rally1 hybrid marque in 2022.

Tänak is looking to break Toyota’s stranglehold of success in Kenya where his bid for the coveted Safari title remains elusive on two attempts since his 2021 debut.

Kenyan Rally Drivers At Home

After the real pros took to the field, it was time for the local drivers to impress in front of the home crowd, mainly dominated by Mitsubishi Evolution 10s, but there were a few Ford Fiestas and a Skoda Fabia.

Carl "Flash" Tundo was the best-placed Kenyan driver on the stage at number 17, 26.1 seconds behind Tanak, while Aakif Virani (20), McRae Kimathi (21), Karan Patel (23), Hamza Anwar (24), Evans Nzioka (26) and Jeremy Wahome (27), among others, followed in that order.

I check my watch. 4.20 pm is the time and the action was done for the day. Satisfied with the once-a-year experience and some few photos and videos taken with my phone, it was time to head back home.

But before I left the venue, I stumbled upon the following small band who decided to entertain motorsports enthusiasts out of the blue. Here is the video: