World Rally Championship leader and seven-time champion Sebastian Ogier was off to a flier on the opening day of the WRC Safari Rally in Nairobi on Thursday, bossing the opening SS1 Super Special Stage at the Moi Sports Centre Kasarani.
Organized on a 4.84km dual track, Ogier was the quickest in the stage finishing top after holding off Estonian Ott Tanak to lead a Toyota Gazoo Racing Team top three finish.
He timed three minutes, 21.5seconds at the stage which attracted hundreds of enthusiastic fans including Head of State President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Toyota stablemate Kalle Rovanperra finished second with a time didfference of 0.3seconds while Welshman Elfyn Evans was third with a slower time by 0.7seconds.
The 23 drivers involved in the race headed to the SS1 At Kasarani after a colorful flag off ceremony at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre.
“It was quite dusty out there, I was stuck in the dust but it was an appetizer for what we will get over the weekend, then real rally starts tomorrow and that is what we are looking forward to. As a team we need to take strong points this weekend, I want to make some ground this weekend unfortunately we don’t know what the weekend holds in for us. It is such a demanding event so lets cross our fingers and hope for the best,” Ogier told reporters after completing the quick stage.
Meanwhile, among the Kenyan drivers, Karan Patel clocked the quickest time, sweeping off the stage in three minutes, 42.6seconds in his Ford Fiesta while five-time National Rally Champion Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo posted the second quickest time among the Kenyan contingent with a three minute, 43.0 seconds timing in his VW Polo GTI.
“It’s awesome; it’s such an experience. I am going to lap this up for the next three days, and hopefully we get to the end,” Tundo said after the short circuit.
The Rally had headed to Kasarani after a colorful opening ceremony at the KICC, officiated by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“In 2013 I made a pledge to my fellow citizens that we will bring the Safari Rally back home and I also promised that I will return the Safari Rally to the top as one of the FIA and WRC toughest rallies. This call has materialized nine tears later in the event we are witnessing today,” President Kenyatta stated as he officially flagged off drivers.
The Safarai Rally returns to the WRC calendar for the first time in 19 years, but this time, the competitive stage will cover 320.19 km over 18 special stages as compared to 2002 when it did 1,010km across 12 competitive stages.
After the opening day on Thursday, the rally heads to Naivasha where the real competition starts with six stages lined up. There will be double loops at the Chui Lodge, Kedong and Oserian routes.
The return of the Safari Rally to the WRC calendar has been received with huge enthusiasm with Kenyans lining up the streets on Thursday to catch a glimpse of the rallying machines while a bigger festival is expected in Naivasha.
“I honestly didn’t expect that much of support from the people but it was great to see. Now we go to the competition and I know we expect a very tough rally. The course is very challenging but we will do our best to come out top,” Ogier stated as he arrived in Naivasha, ready for a gruelling three days.
Leading standings after Friday’s 4.84 km special stage:
- Sebastien Ogier (FRA/Toyota) 3min 21.5sec, 2. Kalle Rovanpera (FIN/Toyota) at 0.3sec, 3. Elfyn Evans (GBR/Toyota) 0.7, 4. Ott Tanak (EST/Hyundai) 2.5, 5. Thierry Neuville (BEL/Hyundai) 5.0, 6. Takamoto Katsuta (JPN/Toyota) 5.6, 7. Gus Greensmith (GBR/M-Sport Ford)6.1, 8. Oliver Solberg (SWE/Hyundai)7.9, 9. Lorenzo Bertelli (ITA/M-Sport Ford) 9.0, 10. Adrien Fourmaux (FRA-BEL/M-Sport Ford)9.6, 11. Dani Sordo (ESP/Hyundai) 10.5, 12. Martin Prokop (CZE/M-Sport Ford) 18.1