Ogier fastest on opening day as WRC Safari rally revs off
- Frenchman Sebastian Ogier clocked the fastest time on SS1
- The Rally was flagged off by President Uhuru Kenyatta at KICC
- Drivers now move to Naivasha for three days of action
Frenchman Sebastien Ogier laid his marker on the opening day of the WRC Safari Rally, recording the quickest time on the first of 19 stages of the grueling competitive stages.
The defending champion who is driving under the Toyota Gazoo Racing team with a Yarris Rally One Car edged Hyundai Motorsport star Thierry Neuville by just five-tenths of a second in the 4.48km SS1 stage at Kasarani.
At the Kasarani Stage which attracted a huge number of fans, two drivers went head to head in the double loop section, each being timed from start to finish. Ogier went head to head with namesake Sebastian Loeb who is returning to the Safari Rally for the first time since its last edition in 2002.
Ogier timed three minutes 18.secs with his side to side competitor Loeb clocking the fifth fastest time, three minutes, 20.6secs.
“I came back for the people. It’s very colourful here and the people in this country give us amazing support. The challenge is going to be big. It’s not the kind of rally I usually love because it’s going to be really rough, but we will try to survive it,” Ogier said after winning the first competitive stage.
Loeb said it had been a challenging loop especially with the dusty track and sharp corners that made it tougher to negotiate through turns.
“very slipper track but really enjoyed it. Looking forward to the rest of the rally,” said the Frenchman who is a nine time world champion, adding he is seeking a podium finish at the Safari.
Ott Tänak clocked the third fastest time in SS1, the Estonian only 0.5sec down on his i20 N team-mate.
Elfyn Evans was 1.2sec slower than his colleague’s benchmark time and took fourth, with nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb – who went head-to-head against Ogier – another 0.5sec behind in an M-Sport Ford Puma. Toyota hotshot Takamoto Katsuta completed the top six just one-tenth further down.
Championship leader Kalle Rovanperä had a difficult first day as he could only clock the 11th quickest time in the opening stage and experienced difficulties in the corners, almost rolling at one of the loops, but maintaining steady in his Toyota Yarris.
One on of the hilly jumps, he punctured one of his tyres, reducing his finishing pace, but looks set to recover on the second day.
“I was a bit on the limit under braking. Nothing really happened, but we had a puncture. That was a big shame, but it’s a long rally and we will try to focus on the week ahead now,” Rovanperä told WRC.com
The stage followed a colourful opening ceremony in central Nairobi, with competitors flagged away by president Uhuru Kenyatta.
“We are excited as a country that this Rally is coming here for the second time in a row and we signed a deal to see the competition stay in kenya up to 2026. We are all looking forward to an exciting rally this year and I want to personally wish all the drivers all the best,” said the Head of State.
FIA Rally Star driver Mcrae Kimathi navigated by Mwangi Kioni was the first one to be flagged off by the President followed by Maxine Wahome.
In the SS1, Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) log leader Karan Patel was the 16th fastest and the fastest Kenyan after clocking three minutes, 39.5secs. Carl Tundo was the closest at 20th while Kimathi was 24th and Maxine 28th among the 31 drivers entered for the rally.
The Rally now heads to Naivasha with Friday’s opening leg spanning the north and south sides of Lake Naivasha. It includes Loldia (19.17km) and Geothermal (11.68km) – a brand-new stage which climbs over craggy rock-lined hills – as well as Kedong (31.25km), which is the longest stage of the rally.
Roads further north around Lake Elmenteita host Saturday’s monster 150.88km route, the longest leg of the weekend.
The day begins with Soysambu (29.32km), which has been lengthened since last year. Next up is a blast over Elmenteita’s (15.08km) oft-used tracks in the Delamere Estate, followed by Sleeping Warrior (31.04km), set in the shadow of a hill that resembles a Masai warrior lying down. The trio are driven for a second time after service.
Sunday’s finale features three stages – each run twice – located on the southern side of Lake Naivasha.
Oserian (17.93km) and Hell’s Gate (10.53km) sandwich Narasha (13.30km) – another new test which rises from the arid floor of the Rift Valley across historic Maasai grazing lands.
The second pass through Hell’s Gate, which finishes amid stunning scenery at Fishers Tower, forms the Wolf Power Stage with bonus points on offer for drivers and manufacturers. The survivors will then return to Naivasha for the afternoon finish ceremony.
The 19 stages total 363.44km.