Nairobi — “I came back for the people.” -Those were the emotional words of eight-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier shortly after grabbing the overnight lead on Day 1 of WRC Safari Rally Kenya.
The GR Yaris driver edged Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville to claim the opening Kasarani Super Special Stage (SSS) speed test before an enthusiastic crowd of petrolheads.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing speedster beat Neuville by 0.6seconds as Ott Tanak of Hyundai came in third, 1.1 behind the leader.
It was a bad day in the office for series leader and shakedown winner Kalle Rovanperä who could only manage a disappointing 11th fastest time.
The 21-year-old ran wide on the first left-hand bend and almost rolled his GR Yaris.
He was lucky to continue, but the excursion caused a right rear puncture which cost 11.6seconds.
Ogier’s result was a repeat of last year’s event where the Frenchman beat Kalle on the opening test at the same venue.
His sublime drive through the 4. 84km head-to-head gravel stage treated spectators to some exhilarating displays of hybrid-powered contraptions first used during the season-opening Rallye Monte Carlo.
“It’s very colourful here and the people in this country give us amazing support. The opener followed a colourful start ceremony in Nairobi which was quite exciting for a start.”
“But the challenge is going to be big. it’s going to be really rough in Naivasha, but we will try to survive it,” he added.
Kasarani SSS marked the start of the event that will revolve around the lakeside town of Naivasha over the next three days.
The top Kenyan driver after the first stage of the event is Karan Patel who returned his Ford Fiesta Rally2 to 16th overall. Five times ARC Safari Rally winner Carl “Flash” Tundo is the second placed Kenyan driver in 20th position.
DAY 1 LEADERBOARD
1 (FRA) S. OGIER -TOYOTA WRT 3:18.8
2 (BEL) T. NEUVILLE HYUNDAI +0.6
3 (EST) O. TÄNAK HYUNDAI +1.1
4 GBR E. EVANS TOYOTA +1.2
5 FRA S. LOEB M-SPORT FORD +1.8
16 (KEN) K. PATEL FIESTA RALLY3 +20.7
17 (IND) G. GILL +24.1
18 (PRY) D. DOMINGUEZ FIESTA RALLY3 +24.4
19 (ZMB )L. GOMES FORD FIESTA RALLY2 +25.0
20 (KEN) C. TUNDO LANCER EVO X +26.5
21 (KEN A. SINGH RAI SKODA FORD FIESTA R3 +29.9
22 (KEN) H. ANWAR FORD FIESTA R3 +31.7
23 (KEN) J. WAHOME FORD FIESTA R3 +32.3
24 (KEN) M. KIMATHI FORD FIESTA R3 +32.8
25 KEN) A. VIRANI SKODA R3 +39.6
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