The eight-time world champion won the famous Kenya Rally in 2021 when he returned to the World Rally Championship after a 19-year hiatus, and the Frenchman opted to return for 12 months in hopes of defending his title.
Having finished ninth in the LMP2 class on his debut at Le Mans 24 Hours two weeks ago, Ogier will drive a third Toyota GR Yaris in what will be his third start to a partial WRC campaign this year.
The revamped Safari Rally last year proved to be a grueling event as Ogier returned to the fight after losing two minutes to win the event from his Toyota teammate Takamoto Katsuta.
The organizers have increased the challenge for drivers and their new Rally1 hybrid machines, with a third of the 363.44 km gravel road becoming new for this year. The stages are also coarser and feature more sand to provide a rigorous test.
After completing the survey of the event, Ogier was convinced that the task ahead would be even more difficult for the crews and would require a smart, strategic approach to enjoy a hassle-free ride to the finish.
“So far it seems more difficult than it was last year,” Ogier said.
Then the goal of the organizers was to make it more difficult and that was certainly achieved.
“It seems very difficult in some places, and it’s definitely going to be about staying across many, many divisions, more so than last year.
“It’s going to be a tough job finding the right cadence that I believe in because there will be some times where it’s frustrating to accept wasting time, but perhaps the strategy is to get to the end without problems, and maybe bring you absolutely high in the rankings. The contrast with Le Mans is certainly very big. .
“I think the main reason to come back was definitely the people here, there was a great atmosphere last year and I expect better this year with less COVID restrictions, so let’s see what we can do.
“We have new cars and we know it’s going to be difficult for them to survive here, so it’s hard to predict any outcome to be honest.
“So it’s definitely a race where you should never give up, and this year with so many new cars going, we may have to be smarter than before.”
Kali Rovanpera, John Haltonen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally 1
Photography: Tomasz Kalinsky
Teammate at Toyota, Elvin Evans, echoed Ogier’s thoughts after the break, acknowledging that drivers will have to “be extra careful” when navigating certain sections.
“We’ll be using some sections we used last year and some new ones, but we can see it’s on the rougher, extreme side, so we’ll need a little more care,” Evans said. It will be a challenging weekend.”
Championship captain and fellow Toyota stablemate Cali Rovanpera faces the task of opening the gravel stages on Friday when the proper rally begins after the curtain raises on Thursday.
The Finn, who has a 55-point lead over Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, is anticipating an already tough task as a road sweeper.
“Conditions are already a little different compared to last year and we can see they are developing a little bit,” said Rovanpera, who led Wednesday’s crisis by 0.5 seconds over Nouvel.
“I think the challenge will be the same as last year, which is just surviving in all conditions.
“Opening the roads here is usually very difficult because there is a lot of loose gravel. We wouldn’t be in the best place to start on Friday but let’s see.”