Hyundai Motorsport WRC Preview: Round 3 - Safari Rally Kenya

26 March, 2024

  • Following back-to-back wins to open the 2024 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), Hyundai Motorsport is targeting another strong result at Safari Rally Kenya, the third round of season
  • Kenya presents a demanding event for both crew and car – deep ruts, unpredictable weather and the distinctive fesh-fesh sand found on the event’s stages provide a unique challenge
  • The team’s three-crew line-up is unchanged from Sweden: Thierry Neuville/Martijn Waiehu, Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja and Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm

Hyundai Motorsport is looking to capitalise on its momentum from the first two rounds of the 2024 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) at the third event of the year, Safari Rally Kenya (28-31 March). While the rally has not traditionally been one of the team’s strongest, Hyundai Motorsport will be hoping to produce a positive performance on the gruelling gravel stages.
Winding across the wildlife-rich plains of the savannah, Safari Rally Kenya is one of the most iconic rallies on the WRC calendar. The setting is incomparable, with the Kenyan landscape providing a breath-taking backdrop to the high-octane action. On the stages themselves is fesh-fesh, a fine powdery sand that can both damage the car itself and hide deep, rally-ending ruts.
As the event has been brought forward from its usual spot in June, there is a greater chance of rain playing a deciding factor. Downpours can cause the dry sandy stages to quickly turn thick and muddy, creating almost impassable conditions.
Ready to take on the challenge for Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team will be the same three crews that contested the previous round in Sweden: Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe, Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja and Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm. With two of the three pairings having already stood on the top step of a WRC podium in 2024, the trio of crews will travel to Kenya feeling confident and aiming to score a solid haul of points. This will be particularly important for Belgians Neuville and Wydaeghe, who currently lead the drivers’ and co-drivers’ championships.
Hyundai Motorsport President and Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul said: “Safari Rally Kenya is a historically challenging event for us. The unique conditions increase the potential for cars to succumb to technical issues caused by the surroundings, meaning we have to focus on being robust and reliable first and foremost. We have made a strong start to the season so we must go to Kenya with belief in ourselves. It is the first gravel event of the 2024 season, making it somewhat a testing ground for the 2024 iteration of our car. We have three very experienced crews in our line-up, and with two back-to-back wins, there is certainly a lot of positivity throughout the team right now. Our performance last year showed promise, so we are hoping to take it one step further next week and leave Kenya with a podium finish as a minimum.”

Crew Notes: Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (#11 Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid)

  •    Belgians will arrive in Kenya as championship leaders
  •    Duo hunting for first podium in Kenya

Neuville said: “The main challenge this year will be the weather conditions; the event moving to March makes it a bit of a lottery with the amount of rain we are expecting to see. Depending on when the rain starts, our road position can be an advantage or disadvantage; we could be emptying out puddles or going through them once they have been cleared. We really need the car to be reliable in Kenya – it is the main thing we count on when the stages are so unpredictable. The car doesn’t need to be the fastest, but it needs to be able to survive in the conditions we see across the stages. It’s not my favourite event, but it is an adventure to participate in. It can be brutal, but it is always exciting. After four top-three stage times in 2023, including a stage win, we want to take that one step further this year and have a clean rally.”
Crew Notes: Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (#8 Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid)

  •       Crew scored podium finish in Kenya with Hyundai Motorsport in 2021
  •       Estonians targeting first top-three finish of 2024

Tänak said: “Safari Rally Kenya is a special challenge. To do well you need endurance, especially as the weather can be unpredictable and the roads are very rough, so altogether it is very hard to win there. On the stages it is a lot about the performance of the cars. Of course, with the current Rally1 cars there are places where you can’t be just fast and flat-out, but performance is still key. The preparations and testing in Spain were important for us. At the last two rallies we've been struggling with the engine mapping, so it was crucial to get to high altitude to help things feel more comfortable for Kenya. Personally, I’ve not managed to get into the groove yet this season and don’t have any strong results. I hope I can change that by keeping things clean and scoring well in this rally. I need to deliver”
Crew Notes: Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (#4 Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid)

  •       Finns looking to maintain momentum after win at Rally Sweden
  •       Second time the pair will represent Hyundai Motorsport at Safari Rally Kenya

Lappi said: “Kenya is one of the most unpredictable rallies on the calendar, especially with it moving earlier in the year. If it is wet, it gets very muddy and that makes it harder to control the car. That combined with the constant variations in road surface make the event very unpredictable and difficult to find the fastest line across the stages. It’s definitely nice to go into the next round after a victor, but we are now fully focussed on Kenya and learning about where we can be smarter and push the limits throughout the weekend. Last year was bittersweet for us; we had a stage win and some top-three finishes before a technical issue ended our rally early. This year we want to be competitive whilst also avoiding issues and ultimately finish well.”

Weekend at a Glance

  • Safari Rally Kenya commences on Wednesday morning with Shakedown, followed by SS1 Super Special Kasarani (4.84km) on Thursday afternoon
  • Friday features two loops of Loldia (19.17km), Geothermal (13.12km) and the second longest stage of the weekend, Kedong (31.50km)
  • With the longest competitive distance of the weekend, Saturday’s 160.96km itinerary features two loops of the notoriously challenging Sleeping Warrior stage (36.08km)
  • An unusually long Sunday consists of five stages, including two passes of Hell’s Gate (10.53km) with the second acting as the Power Stage.