Puuppola, Finland,

Safari Rally Kenya: Day 1


TOYOTA GAZOO Racing starts search for Safari success in Nairobi 

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team’s push for a third successive win on the iconic Safari Rally in Kenya is underway following a spectacular super special stage in the capital city Nairobi.

Following two days of reconnaissance on the demanding stages, the drivers jumped behind the wheel of their rally cars for Wednesday morning’s shakedown. Kalle Rovanperä posted the fastest time after three runs over the shakedown stage, which provided an all-important chance to refine car setups given that pre-event testing is not permitted outside of Europe.

This year celebrating its 70th anniversary, the rally began with a start ceremony in Uhuru Park in the centre of Nairobi on Thursday lunchtime. From there, crews headed to the side-by-side super special stage in the Kasarani area of the city. In front of large and enthusiastic crowds, Sébastien Ogier came close to setting the fastest time for a third year in a row, just 0.1 seconds off the pace set by Ott Tänak (M-Sport Ford).

Rovanperä was just behind Ogier with the third-best time, while Elfyn Evans was fifth and Takamoto Katsuta – driving a fourth GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID – was seventh. Less than six seconds cover the top eight drivers with more than 350 kilometres of rallying to come over the next three days.

A concept car, the Hilux MHEV, performed two runs around the Kasarani stage before the competitive action got underway. The car is being driven in Kenya by Toyota rally legend and three-time Safari Rally winner Juha Kankkunen, with the goal to demonstrate and offer options for achieving carbon neutrality in markets with underdeveloped infrastructure like on the African continent.

Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal) 
“It’s great to be back here in Kenya and starting another Safari Rally; we always get such amazing support here. This opening super special in Nairobi is great for the bringing the rally to the people. We were also glad to have Juha Kankkunen, a hero of this rally, driving there with the Hilux MHEV. As we discussed with the drivers beforehand, you cannot win the rally in this first stage, so they just needed to take it a bit easy and now look towards the main challenges of the event to come. The drivers have said the stages are generally in rougher condition compared to the last two years, so finding the right rhythm will be the name of the game. It also looks like there could be rain and we know it’s extremely slippery here when wet. So there will be challenges this weekend, but we are ready for them.”

Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69) 
“The feeling is always really nice to be here in Kenya for the start of the rally, with a lot of people cheering for us even on a Thursday lunchtime. The super special is quite a nice one with a chance for some proper driving. We just wanted to make a better start than last year and have a clean run, so it was all good. This rally is a huge challenge every time we come here, and even though we know the stages from before, we still found a lot of changes on recce. Overall the stages seem a bit rougher, as a lot of sand and gravel has been washed away by the rain. But we had a good feeling in shakedown and it didn’t seem so bad opening the road there; hopefully tomorrow will be similar.”

Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33) 
“It’s a pleasure to be here and getting the rally started in Nairobi: we always have a massive following and support every time we come here. The first stage is pretty spectacular but there was plenty to catch you out, with a lot of stones at the side of the road and some rain overnight, so it was tricky enough. It’s been a busy week so far, with plenty of work to prepare the pacenotes after the recce because the conditions here change from year to year. There’s no rally like it on the calendar but we had a chance to sample the terrain in shakedown and the team seems to have done a pretty good job with the setup.”

Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 17) 
“I’m happy to be here in Kenya once again. The enthusiasm for the rally is high and this first stage in the capital is always a nice and fun one to drive with a lot of people watching. It was a bit trickier this time with more rocks in places and a big watersplash, so we had to pay attention and take it a bit easy, but still the time was fine with the main part of the rally starting tomorrow. We had a decent shakedown yesterday which was quite representative of the rally and useful to check how the car handles these bumpy roads. The feeling is OK and we are as ready as we can be for what awaits us.”

End of day one (Thursday): 

1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) 3m14.3s
2 Sébastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +0.1s
3 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +2.4s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +2.7s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +3.3s
6 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +4.0s
7 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +5.1s
8 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) +8.0s
9 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +9.7s
10 Jourdan Serderidis/Andy Malfoy (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) +11.3s
(Results as of 16:00 on Thursday, for the latest results please visit www.wrc.com)

What's next? 
The first full day of the rally is based around Lake Naivasha, around 100 kilometres north-west of Nairobi and where the service park is also located. An anti-clockwise loop of three stages around the lake will be run twice either side of mid-day service.


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