Thierry Neuville wins opening stage of Safari Rally Kenya

Thierry Neuville wins opening stage of Safari Rally Kenya

Kenyan President William Ruto launched the 71st edition of Safari Rally Kenya from Nairobi, the capital city, (Thursday 28 March). The event marks the third round of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship.


Dressed for the occasion in WRC-branded racing overalls, Ruto flagged away the leading crews as they drove over the ramp in downtown Nairobi. From there, the cars headed to the rally-opening super special stage at the nearby Kasarani Stadium where thousands of fans were vying for every possible vantage point.


Neuville, who carries a three-point championship lead into this round, edged his Hyundai i20 N partner Ott Tänak by a single tenth over the 4.84km opener, while reigning champion Kalle Rovanperä completed the top three just 0.7s further back.


Having recorded two non-finishes in Kenya from three previous attempts, Neuville is well aware that the going will get tougher from Friday onwards.


"It will be a challenging event,” he affirmed. “Our fingers are crossed that, this time, we can get through without any technical problems or mistakes. I think we are well prepared, and I am feeling good in the car, so it's always good to start a rally like this.”


Africa has been home to two of Takamoto Katsuta’s four WRC podiums. Driving a Toyota GR Yaris identical to Rovanperä’s, he dropped just 0.9s whilst posting the fourth-best time ahead of Hyundai rival Esapekka Lappi.


Elfyn Evans, currently second in the points, went sixth-quickest in his Toyota with M-Sport Ford Puma youngster Adrien Fourmaux following closely behind. Gus Greensmith set the pace in WRC2, taking eighth overall in a Škoda Fabia RS, while Grégoire Munster and Oliver Solberg completed the top 10.


The action resumes at 08:15 local time on Friday morning with the first of the day’s six stages. The biggest challenge will be the 31.50km Kedong test, which makes up the finale of the morning and afternoon loops.


Leading positions after Thursday:
1. T Neuville / Martijn Wydaeghe BEL Hyundai i20 N 3m 19.9s
2. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Hyundai i20 N +0.1s
3. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota GR Yaris +0.7s
4. T Katsuta / A Johnston JPN Toyota GR Yaris +0.9s
5. E Lappi / J Ferm FIN Hyundai i20 N +1.5s
6. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota GR Yaris +1.7s

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