Ford and Hyundai rallying teams will be sending observers and experts to watch the Safari Rally in Kenya between July 5 and 7.
These two World Rally Championship (WRC) are leaving nothing to chance and their reconnaissance is based on the high possibility of this year’s African Rally Championship (ARC) Safari Rally, being run as WRC Candidate Event, returns to the top-flight calendar in 2020.
Hyundai are sending to Kenya, Pablo Marcos who arrives on Wednesday and the current WRC champions Ford M-Sport will be flying in Krzysztof Stolarczyk. These two will be assessing the competition, the route and conditions in Kenya to give their teams a head-start in preparation should the Safari become a WRC event next year.
Ford, now racing under M Sport Team won the 2018 WRC drivers title through Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia. Toyota won the manufacturer crown. If they attend a WRC Safari next year, they will actually be returning as defending WRC Safari Rally Champions; picking up from where they left 17 years ago when the late Colin McRrae and Nicky Grist drove their Ford Focus to victory in 2002, Safari’s last year in the WRC.
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Ford is also historic in the Safari. It is their works team entry of Finland’s Hannu Mikkola that became the first overseas winner of the Safari in 1972. Mikkola drove a Ford RS 1600 with Swede Gunnar Palm.
Ford had, otherwise been a very successful team previously in the Safari, having first won in 1955 (Ford Zephyr- Vic Preston Snr), 1958 (Ford Zephyr II – Arne Kopperund), 1964 (Ford Cortina GT – Peter Hughes) and 1969 (Ford Taunus 20M RS – Robin Hillyar).
After Mikkola’s Ford break-through for overseas drivers Swede, Bjorn Waldergard, produced a remarkable driver with Han Thorselius to win in 1977 in a Ford Escort RS 1800.
The British manufacturer stayed out for a decade before making a return in 1987 through Stig Blomqvist, also of Sweden, and Kenya’s Johnny Hillier in Ford Bosworth’s. But they were unsuccessful.
It was in 1998 that Ford returned with three times Safari champion Juha Kankkunen, navigated by Juha Repo and late replacement Ari Vatanen/Fred Gallagher finished second and third respectively. McRae won in 1999 and 2001.
Hyundai were late entrants in the Safari, fielding a fully fledged team in 2002 when Kankkunen finished 8th in a Hyundai Accent.
However, it was Phineas Kimathi, racing as a privateer who gave the South Korean manufacturer their first ever points in the WRC after winning the F2 category in a Coupe and finishing 18th overall.
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