French driver Sébastien Ogier and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia recorded the quickest time through the opening 4.84km Kasarani super special stage at the World Rally Championships (WRC) Safari Rally on Thursday afternoon.
The Toyota Yaris WRC driver stopped the clocks in 3min 21.5sec to open a small advantage of three-tenths of a second over Finnish team-mate Kalle Rovanperä. Welshman Elfyn Evans made it a Toyota 1-2-3 on the opener with Estonian Ott Tänak driving the first of the Hyundais in fourth place.
In the presence of FIA President Jean Todt, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off the event at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in the capital Nairobi before the super special stage got underway to the northeast of the capital.
The Kenyan duo of Onkar Rai and Carl Tundo were given the privilege of opening the first WRC stage in 19 years and entertaining the crowds on the dusty super special where cars ran in pairs over two laps. Tundo was quickest in the first duel with a time of 3min 43.0sec.
But the local drivers were no match for the World Rally Cars that followed and Rovanperä carded a stunning time of 3min 21.8sec on a stage where Dani Sordo lost some time in the dust and slipped down to 11th place.
Only Ogier was able to beat the Finn’s time on the opener, but the real meat of the action gets underway when crews enter the bush and the great African unknown on Friday.
Crews will tackle two loops of three stages. Chui Lodge (SS2/5) runs for 13.34km, has never been used before and heads into the bush and out over plains before continuing along a twisty and heavily wooded track.
Kedong (SS3/6) was used in 2002 when the Safari was last included in the WRC. After a fast start, the track heads across an area of black cotton sand (fesh-fesh). The 32.68km special is the longest and potentially most challenging of the rally and concludes across a rough and rocky section.
The Oserian (SS4/7) stage of 18.87km is another new special and crosses the plain adjacent to Chui Lodge.
2021 Safari Rally Kenya – positions after SS1:
1. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Toyota Yaris WRC
2. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC
3. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Scott Martin (GBR) Toyota Yaris WRC
4. Ott Tänak (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC
5. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Martin Wydaeghe (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC
6. Takamoto Katsuta (JPN)/Daniel Barritt (GBR) Toyota Yaris WRC
7. Gus Greensmith (GBR)/Chris Patterson (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC
8. Oliver Solberg (SWE)/Aaron Johnston (IRL) Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC
9. Lorenzo Bertelli (ITA)/Simone Scattolin (ITA) Ford Fiesta WRC
10. Adrien Fourmaux (FRA)/Renaud Jamoul (FRA) Ford Fiesta WRC
11. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Borja Rozada (ESP) Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC
12. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Zdeněk Jůrka (CZE) Ford Fiesta MkII (WRC2)