The legendary Safari Rally Kenya, which returned to the FIA World Rally Championship last year, forms the latest round of the 2022 season and provides a challenge like no other.
Why tyres matter in Kenya
The distances covered are shorter than in the past, but the modern Safari Rally has still retained its reputation as a car breaker. Tyres have to cope with deep ruts and huge rocks as well as sustained high speeds. The road conditions can vary considerably within the same stage, including some incredibly soft and sandy sections, while rain can make the roads extremely muddy and slippery in an instant. ‘Fesh fesh’ is another hazard unique to the Safari: very fine sand that cars can easily get bogged down in.
The Pirelli tyres in Kenya
Scorpion KX WRC: Pirelli’s gravel rally tyre for the top category comes in two compounds, both of which have been updated for the 2022 season with reinforced structures and a design optimised for the extra weight and torque of the latest Rally1 cars. For Kenya, the soft SA is the main choice to provide optimal grip in slippery conditions, with the hard HA as an alternative to offer added durability for the most abrasive surfaces.
Scorpion K: Gravel tyres for the less powerful Rally2 cars in WRC2 and Rally3 cars in WRC3 also come in hard and soft compounds – featuring many of the same characteristics of the KX fitted to the top cars. In Kenya, the Rally2 cars have the K6B (soft) and K4B (hard) tyres, while Rally3 has K6 (soft) and K4 (hard). The ‘B’ variant of the K tyres for WRC2 make their debut in Kenya, specifically optimised for the challenge they will face.
Terenzio Testoni, rally activity manager: “We saw last year that the Safari Rally remains a marathon and not a sprint, unlike any other modern WRC event. In Kenya, the tyres do not actually suffer so much with wear, and this is one reason why the soft tyre will be the main choice for the teams this year. The focus instead is very much on the sidewall, which has to withstand the huge quantity of rocks as well as extremely deep ruts that are found in many sections of stage, with impacts that are severe enough to damage the mechanical components on the cars and end a driver’s rally on the spot. With many flat-out sections followed by heavy braking, the reinforced structures of our latest KX WRC tyres will be put to the test. Strength as well as performance is key here, on this unique event.”
Pirelli in numbers
Pirelli will bring around 2000 tyres to Kenya, of which 570 will be for the top class of Rally1 cars.
Each Rally1 driver can use up to 32 tyres during the rally, including shakedown. A new rule for gravel events in 2022 means each driver can choose an extra four tyres of either compound ahead of shakedown, in addition to the standard allocation of:
28 Scorpion KX WRC SA
8 Scorpion KX WRC HA
Pirelli will also supply 1400 tyres to the other four-wheel drive cars in the event, including those entered in WRC2 and WRC3:
26 Scorpion K6B (K6 for WRC3)
8 Scorpion K4B (K4 for WRC3)
· A maximum of 30 tyres are allowed to be used (including shakedown, for which an extra four tyres can be chosen)
The big number: 363.44. The Safari Rally will feature the longest competitive distance of the season so far, at 363.44 kilometres: almost 40 km more than the 2021 event. The Loldia and Soysambu stages have both been extended, while Geothermal and Narasha are brand new tests for this year.
What to look out for
Safari will provide another potential showdown between the all-time greats of the WRC, Sébastien Loeb and Sébastien Ogier. Toyota driver Ogier won the rally one year ago while M-Sport Ford man Loeb has one previous start in Kenya, back in 2002.