Tanak takes early Safari Rally Kenya lead Thursday

Tanak takes early Safari Rally Kenya lead Thursday

Thousands of fans flocked to the outskirts of Nairobi on Thursday afternoon to witness Ott Tänak take the quickest time through the Kasarani super special stage and claim the early lead at Safari Rally Kenya.

Fans were vying for every vantage point possible as the 70th edition of the iconic Safari Rally Kenya got underway on a purpose-built stage on the edge of the nation’s capital following the ceremonial start in downtown Nairobi.

It was M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tänak claiming the quickest time through 4.84km super special, going 0.1sec quicker than 2021 Safari winner Sébastien Ogier in his Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Yaris Rally1.

With action proper getting underway two hours north of Nairobi (Friday) in and around Naivasha, it is on Saturday where Tänak believes the rally will be decided, opining at the end of Thursday’s stage: "[Safari Rally Kenya is] a demanding one. Let's see after Saturday. I would say this day will tell us a lot."

Completing the top three in another Yaris was Ogier’s team-mate and 2022 Safari winner, Kalle Rovanperä who was simply relieved to make it through the opening test of the weekend, following a near-roll on the same stage 12 months ago.

Winner last time out on Sardinia, Thierry Neuville was the best of the Hyundai Motorsport drivers, completing the stage fourth overall whilst it was Wales’ Elfyn Evans in Toyota Gazoo Racing’s third manufacturer point-scoring Yaris rounding out the top five.

Sitting just outside of the top five was Esapekka Lappi and Takamoto Katsuta, both of whom will be feeling more settled after each suffered separate setbacks on Shakedown on Wednesday. Lappi’s i20 N suffered a broken propshaft while Katsuta and co-driver Aaron Johnston walked away unscathed from a jarring roll.

Dani Sordo initially appeared to have claimed seventh-fastest overall before incurring a 10sec penalty for a false start, dropping the Hyundai pilot down to 16th overall.

This pushed Pierre-Louis Loubet in his M-Sport Ford Puma up one spot while Oliver Solberg, driving a rally2-spec Škoda Fabia that has been borrowed from Daniel Chwist. Although not scoring WRC2 points this weekend, Solberg snuck in ahead of the Rally1 Puma of Jourdan Serderidis, with the Greek driver rounding out the top 10.

Among the points-scoring contenders for WRC2, Kajetan Kajetanowicz held sway on the opening test. The Škoda Fabia-mounted Pole claimed the overnight class lead by 2.2 seconds from the Ford Fiesta of Luxembourg-flagged Gregoire Munster, while WRC veteran Martin Prokop set the third fastest time in his Ford Fiesta a further 1.4 seconds behind.

Behind the top three in the class came a phalanx of four Škodas headed by Poland’s Daniel Chwist ahead of Armin Kremer and local hero Carl Tundo, celebrating his 21st Safari Rally Kenya start, and Spaniard Miguel Díaz Aboitiz.

Immediately behind this quartet, in a hugely impressive 19th place overall, stood the WRC3 leader, Paraguayan Diego Domínguez. Among the fleet of M-Sport prepared Ford Fiestas which contest the class, Dominguez went 6.8 seconds faster than the first of the Kenyan FIA Rally Star contenders, Mcrae Kimathi, who makes a welcome return to the WRC as part of the rally talent competition.

In third place among the WRC3 runners, Canada’s Jason Bailey was making the most of his first competitive outing outside of North America and his first WRC event since Rally México in 2018. The reigning North American Rally Championship title holder went to the overnight halt just 1.5 seconds behind local man Kimathi.

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