Why no prize money for WRC winner Rovanpera

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WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2024 winners Kalle Rovanpera and his co-navigator Jonne Halttunen pose for a photo on top of their Toyota Gr Yaris after they topped the race at Hells Gate in Naivasha on March 31, 2024. PHOTO | BONIFACE MWANGI | NMG

Kalle Rovanpera was awarded a wooden carving valued at Sh25,000 after winning the 2024 WRC Safari Rally and celebrated his victory with alcohol-free champagne.

Kenyan fans have been wondering how one can risk his life, and expend so much energy for a wooden carving. It has never been disclosed how much is the prize money for the Safari Rally in contrast to other local events like the Magical Kenya Open which offers the winner $425,000 (Sh56 million) from the $2.5 million (Sh330 million) kitty, Kip Keino Classic Continental Tour and city marathon races.

For a start, there is no prize money on offer in the Safari Rally or national championship events. Instead, one is expected to pay between Sh15,000 to Sh50,000 as entry fees. You either have old money or should seek sponsors because motorsport is all about business. But motorsport at the highest level is like any other profession, where workers are paid a monthly salary and performance bonuses. They are encouraged to see endorsements and individual commercial sponsors.

But unlike in other professional sports, rally drivers' remuneration is never disclosed to the public. It is an agreement between them and their teams. However, once in a while sponsors disclose their financial worth.

For example, Safaricom M-Pesa Global announced a Sh20 million sponsorship for Ford driver Adrien Fourmaux to fly the M-Pesa logo in the Safari and 10 other events this year.

However, Colin McRae's move from Subaru for Ford was reported to have cost Ford £6 million (Sh999 million) in salaries in 1999, the last publicly disclosed salary for a rally driver.

Since its inception, the Safari Rally was not about money. The Safari was born at a bar in Limuru when the two gentlemen Eric Cecil and Vincent Niel decided to do a long-distance event for fun.

Thereafter, local car franchises adopted the Safari as a marketing tool for their products and initially, companies like Marshals East Africa and DT Dobie gave their workshop managers vehicles to drive in the Safari as part of marketing strategies.

But gradually drivers like Shekhar Mehta, Joginder Singh and Vic Preston Junior were identified for such missions before they were snapped by manufacturer teams who started paying them money.

So how much does a top rally driver earn without prize money?

A website (Rally Sports) suggests that the 2023 Safari champion Sebastien Ogier is one of the top paid with an annual pay of $2.5 million (Sh330 million). Thierry Neuville is at Sh260 million, and Sébastien Loeb at Sh195 million.

Patrick Njiru in his prime was earning Sh8.5 million from BAT sponsorship annually between 1995 and 1997.

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.