The FIA World Rally Championship leader headed his nearest title challenger Thierry Neuville - driving a Hyundai i20 N - by five-tenths of a second through the 5.40km Loldia warm-up, overlooking the picturesque Lake Naivasha. Sébastien Loeb was 1.3sec further back in an M-Sport Ford Puma.
While the stage was representative of the punishing broken tests that competitors will face over the next few days, conditions remained dry and dusty. With thunderstorms predicted later this week, the roads could very quickly turn into treacherous mudbaths.
Last year’s Safari winner Sébastien Ogier was fastest out of the blocks with his GR Yaris before team-mate Rovanperä posted the benchmark time on his second run. The Finn, like many of the drivers, believes conditions will be even more challenging than in 2021.
"It seems that this year the rally will be even tougher,” he explained. “I was not expecting such rough conditions like we saw on the recce and the roads are even more soft than last year.
“I think, in some places, it might be good to be the first car on the road here. Of course, we will have some cleaning in some sections, but that is not the biggest place where you can lose time here.
“We had rain on one stage in the recce, but the road didn’t really get wet for us. Everybody says that [if it rains] it’s extremely slippery, and I have seen some onboards. It’s crazy when it gets wet, so I don’t really know what to expect,” he added.
Rally Italia Sardegna winner Ott Tänak matched Loeb’s pace to claim fourth in a Hyundai, with Ogier eventually finishing just four-tenths further back in fifth.
Takamoto Katsuta and Elfyn Evans brought their Yaris cars home in sixth and seventh, while Puma stars Gus Greensmith, Adrien Fourmaux and Craig Breen rounded off the leaderboard.
The leading times were:
|1.||Kalle ROVANPERÄ||Toyota GR Yaris||3min 42.1sec|
|2.||Thierry NEUVILLE||Hyundai i20 N||+0.5sec|
|3.||Sébastien LOEB||Ford Puma||+1.8sec|
|4.||Ott TÄNAK||Hyundai i20 N||+1.8sec|
|5.||Sébastien OGIER||Toyota GR Yaris||+2.2sec|
|6||Takamoto KATSUTA||Toyota GR Yaris||+4.0sec|
|7.||Elfyn EVANS||Toyota GR Yaris||+4.6sec|
|8.||Gus GREENSMITH||Ford Puma||+4.6sec|
|9.||Adrien FOURMAUX||Ford Puma||+4.8sec|
|10.||Craig BREEN||Ford Puma||+5.6sec|
- Full coverage from Safari Rally Kenya will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.