Safari Rally returned onto WRC last year and is here to stay. It’s still different to all other events with unique terrain and high contrasts of fast and slow sections, although not as wild and long as in the past decades. However, this year Safari will likely be the longest rally of the season with 363 stage kilometres. Almost all stages are changed at least a bit from last year. We could also expect the rally to be quicker with two of the slowest stages removed and replaced with ones run on actual roads as opposed to off-road tracks.
Cover image by Toyota Gazoo Racing (C)
Maps @ rally-maps.com
In Safari the shakedown is driven exceptionally already on Wednesday morning. The stage itself, Loldia Shakedown, has remained unchanged from last year. At first it’s very angular – long straights and flatout passages and tight junction turns – although it’s also quite bumpy, more than most actual stages. Towards the end there’s an undulating narrow forest section, some jumps and long spectator-friendly bends as well. Last year we saw Oliver Solberg run into problems already on the shakedown.
The rally starts already on Thursday afternoon with SSS1 Kasarani. It is also run exactly like last year. It’s a twin-car super special which looks like “Safari” with just tracks ploughed into the dirt. It’s very dusty and last year we noticed the “laps” are not equally long so split times will have little meaning.
SS2+5 Loldia has been extended from last year with an additional part in the middle. This is the stage where Thierry Neuville’s suspension broke last year. Although the title is the same as shakedown’s, the two stages do not share their routes.
The beginning of the stage is angular with lots of square turns and straights. The roads are narrow, smooth and hard – not rough or soft – but bumpy at times.
The route deviates from last year’s one at 6 km first onto an off-road track and then back onto a similar narrow road but now tightly between the bushes and trees. At first it’s rather straight but from 8.1 km onwards we start seeing quite tight corners, which is not that usual in this rally.
When the stage rejoins last year’s route, it’s similar to the beginning – angular and smooth, although there’s a couple of places where it’s slower because of road softness.
SS3+6 Geothermal is a new stage for this year. In contrast to most other Safari stages of this decade, it’s almost completely driven on actual gravel roads. Only the very beginning is on an off-road track. The width and condition of the road varies, but mostly there’s a very hard base with loose gravel on top and big stones on the side. The road surface gets better throughout the stage until the very end. At best it looks a bit like Rally Mexico or Acropolis, and I think we could see some road cleaning happening on this stage.
In typical Safari style, this stage has some very fast and very slow sections and you need to recognize them to survive through with a great time. In terms of normal rallying, there’s four junction turns – two at the beginning, one in the middle and a particularly tight one at the end. There’s also some nicely flowing long tight corners, something that is atypical to the rally.
SS4+7 Kedong is the longest stage of the rally at 31 km, driven almost like in 2021 when it was the fastest stage of the rally with 116 km/h of average speed. There’s two changes on the route, “to avoid some irreparable rain damage, deepening dust pans and an area or two with slight safety concerns”, according to the Rally Guide. In addition we can see that the start location has been moved forwards. These changes likely make the stage a bit slower, but probably still again the fastest of the rally.
The start is on a wide and smooth road but turns right away onto a smaller road. Last year Sebastien Ogier almost went off here, but thanks to the new start location it won’t be as fast now. The width of the road changes from narrow to medium wide and again narrow, the surface varying constantly from smooth to rough, hard to soft, pace being mostly very fast but occasionally slower on corners and bumps.
The junction turn to a farm at 6.1 km is different from last year, and it brings the pace down for a while. A very fast and wide road is then joined at 7.5 km, becoming soon narrower and tighter in the forest.
A junction turn at 9.7 km takes the stage – via a rougher and twistier passage – to a fast, smooth and medium wide savanna section. The next junction turn makes the road smaller but still similarly fast. Another rough and undulating passage appears at 13.1 km. A fesh-fesh section surprises at 14.1 km. At 15.2 km we’re back onto fast savanna sections – first smooth, then rougher from 17.1 km onwards. Another slow and twisty fesh-fesh part appears at 21.7 km.
At 23 km the stage deviates from last year’s route onto a section which appears to have been ploughed into the soil for the rally. Thus it’s a bit wider and smoother as well as more sinuous than the naturally formed off-road tracks, and likely more “rallyable”, although occasionally quite rough. At 25.8 km the stage joins a narrow road, likely used to service the electrical line above. One kilometre later the stage turns again onto a ploughed section, this time very twisty and narrow in the forest.
Last year’s route is rejoined just at the place where Dani Sordo crashed out last year. The stage proceeds on a wide and gravely road, quite angular, apart from one short deviation onto a rougher track. Near the very end there’s the corner where Elfyn Evans hit a stone and ended his 2021 rally short.
Saturday is a long day with 150 km in the North on three stages very close to each other. Some of these roads have been a part of the Safari Rally of the past, but those stages were always longer and more straightforward than nowadays. In fact, one 84 km stage in 2001 covered the area of these three 2022 stages!
SS8+11 Soysambu is practically a new stage for this year. Only a handful of kilometres here and there are shared with last year’s route, and the length is pumped up to 29 km.
The start is on a road that has been ploughed into the savanna dirt. It’s all flat and very smooth, only soft at times. There’s straights but also tight bends and sinuous passages. Likely it’s a very good section to spectate on.
At 6.9 km the stage joins an older road. It’s wide and straight but very worn, so drivers will have to look for the smoothest line around potholes, dips and bumps. At 9.8 km the straight ends and the stage turns right onto a very rough forest section. Subsequently the track in the savanna is smoother until the stage rejoins something resembling more of a road at 11.8 km.
After the next right turn the stage starts alternating between rocky rough tracks and ploughed smooth paths – big rhythm changes from slow to fast. Finally at 17.7 km the stage proceeds onto smooth tracks, which are mostly fast and smooth but narrow and occasionally rough or technical. This part was also used last year in the other direction.
At 21.4 km last year’s route is rejoined for a section with two river crossings, soft fesh-fesh and some sinuous narrow tracks. But right after the second river crossing the stage turns onto a section which wasn’t used last year. However, it doesn’t really change much character apart from a rocky part and a long straight. The final 1.6 km are again same as last year, a relatively flowingly sinuous track section.
SS9+12 Elmenteita is a savanna stage run in the opposite direction from last year.
It starts on a relatively smooth and fast-flowing section with only a handful of tight corners. At 3.3 km there is a tight turn onto a bumpier but mostly straight section, and then at 4.9 km another turn back to smooth. However, this section alternates constantly between smooth and bumpy, straight and twisty. Some sections also could be more rough than last year.
At 9.8 km there is a chicane around a tree and then we come onto a medium fast section in open areas and lots of room to go wide, with again some rough places. Then at 11.9 km there is a tight twisty part in the bushes and finally the ending is softer near the Lake Elmenteita shoreline.
SS10+13 Sleeping Warrior is the only desert/forest stage of the rally to remain unchanged from last year. This is the longest stage of the day and the second stage in the rally to pass the 30 km marker. Some sections are hyper fast, some very slow. Still, last year the average speed of 106 km/h was the second fastest of the rally. We also remember the second run for a rainy and foggy challenge.
The start is on an open area, on a quite rough track, turning all the time. At 2.6 km it joins a proper road, quite narrow and quite smooth, mostly straight. There’s two detours off the road and a rougher surface, but at 7.8 km the stage goes into a forest track which is more twisty but still quite fast at times. A section of long straights is cut with a chicane like detour at a junction at 10 km. There’s occasional mudholes, but mostly smooth sailing, very fast at times. At 13.5 km the stage goes onto a smaller road which is occasionally only a track, sometimes very rough or soft but also occasionally fast, turning constantly. At 17.2 km there’s a rough uphill followed by a bumpy and grassy track, but constantly very straightforward.
After the 20 km mark there’s a series of tight junction turns and surface changes. However, the biggest rhythm change in the stage occurs at 26.5 km when it turns onto a barely visible grassy track which is quite rough and turns all the time. It gets even rougher and even rocky at 27.2 km with tricky small crests and turns on the narrow power line service track. The stage opens up but remains occasionally rocky until the very last tight junction just before the finish line.
Sunday packs in almost 100 km of stages and a midday service, making it the longest Sunday we’ve had in a long time. The stages are set in the same area as on Friday.
SS14+17 Oserian is a forest stage shortened just slightly from the start. Last year it was run on Friday, but the second pass was cancelled because of cars getting stuck in fesh-fesh, most notably the rally leader Kalle Rovanperä.
The beginning of the stage is narrow and twisty in the forest, although it opens up from time to time onto longer straights and wider parts. At 2.9 km there is a junction turn onto a road which has just a track and grass in the middle. At the same time the forest turns into more open areas and the stage becomes more angularly fast, involving longer straights or flat out passages. Another long slow and twisty section comes at 8 km. It’s not until 13.2 km that we get again long straights. Finally the last 1.3 km is slow and twisty.
SS15+18 Narasha is another completely new stage, and it’s the most straightforward of the whole rally. It’s driven completely on relatively wide but sandy soft roads. If the roads were in perfect condition it would be a super fast stage, but the numerous bumps, dips and other defects require drivers to reduce speed from time to time more than corners. Thus it resembles the classic Safari rallies of the past more than the narrow off-road tracks of many current stages. Other challenges involve a narrow rocky section at 2 km, a series of square bends at 6.1 km and a river crossing at 8.1 km followed by a tight junction turn.
SS16+19 Hell’s Gate acts again as the power stage and is run just like last year except for the final junction which turns now slightly left instead of a tight right last year. In addition, last year the first run of the stage was shortened due to deep fesh-fesh, which couldn’t have taken two runs. Last year’s average speeds were 103-104 km/h so it’s also a relatively fast stage.
The stage begins again on a proper gravel road. It’s relatively wide and has some sort of ditches. However, it’s quite rocky rough. The character is quite straightforwards apart from a couple of tight corners.
At 5.6 km first the road narrows, then turns left onto another road, again quite wide and straightforward but rough and soft. There’s a particularly bad fesh-fesh part at 7.8 km. Some of the sections have also been repaired from last year, making them less soft but more rocky.
Finally the road is again narrower, harder and smoother as we just descend down to the final junction – which turns now left instead of right. It was tricky last year but it will be tricky this way as well, a fitting finale for a difficult rally!
EDIT 16.6.2022: Shakedown is already on Wednesday and super special on Thursday afternoon