Why 2026 Safari Rally is set for a raft of changes

©Imago Images

MOTORSPORTS Why 2026 Safari Rally is set for a raft of changes

Festus Chuma 05:30 - 07.03.2024

The 2026 Safari Rally will revolutionize routes and service parks, introducing flexibility and potentially extending the event to Mombasa for variety.

Last week, the world motorsport governing body unveiled an ambitious plan that promises to reshape the future landscape of top-level rallying.

This extensive roadmap introduces significant changes to technical regulations, including the discontinuation of hybrid technology and the advent of new Rally1 rules set to take effect in 2026.

However, it is not just the technical side of the sport that is set for a transformation.

The sporting aspect is also undergoing a comprehensive revamp, aiming to create a more dynamic and engaging championship.

Under the current framework, rally events are required to feature at least 300 kilometers of timed stages.

But in a move towards greater flexibility and innovation, from next year, organizers will be granted more freedom in designing the route and format of rallies.

This shift aims to accommodate a global calendar that incorporates both endurance and sprint-style events, ensuring that each race culminates on Sundays with an end-of-rally Power Stage.

With these changes, the total distance covered by timed stages throughout the season will remain unchanged.

A key aspect of this overhaul is the move away from the conventional service park format.

Traditionally, rallies have relied on a central service park, a concept popularized two decades ago by former WRC team owner David Richards.

This format, known for its cloverleaf design, has been a staple of the sport, facilitating communication and enhancing safety.

However, advancements in technology have largely mitigated these concerns, paving the way for more flexible event organization.

The future of service parks in rallying is poised for a significant transformation.

Teams will be encouraged to source their structures locally, a strategy aimed at reducing costs and increasing flexibility.

Additionally, a cap on the number of personnel attending events will be introduced, aligning with practices in other motorsport categories.

The staged approach to personnel reduction is expected to commence next year, according to Richards, who is part of the FIA task force spearheading these changes.

"Sardinia will offer a glimpse as to how sprint-style rallies will operate this year, with its 48-hour concept revealed earlier this year," Richards stated as per Motorsport.com.

The move towards less conventional layouts allows for the exploration of more remote service options, potentially departing from the cloverleaf configuration that has defined the sport for years.

Richards elaborated on the rationale behind moving away from centralized services, citing advancements in communication technology and improved safety measures as key factors.

"All those issues to a great extent are resolved now, so we can free up the events to have more freedom in their organisation and the layout of their events, and give us more variety," he explained.

The FIA's open-minded approach extends to the format of endurance rallies, with Richards acknowledging the possibility of reverting to traditional longer stages for events like the Safari Rally.

This includes considering innovative proposals, such as Kenya's suggestion to expand the rally beyond Naivasha, potentially establishing a second base in Mombasa.

"Let's look at what they are proposing and see if it fits in. We're not saying yes, we're not saying no, but we are certainly saying let's look at these ideas and see if it works for the World Rally Championship," Richards concluded.

Follow Pulse Sports WhatsApp channel for more news.