Thu 22 Jun 2023

Tanak sets early pace in Kenya

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 the 4.84km super special, going 0.1sec quicker than 2021 Safari winner Sébastien Ogier in his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1.

With action getting underway in earnest two hours north of Nairobi tomorrow (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 - a near-roll on the same stage 12 months ago still fresh in his memory.

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

Sitting just outside of the top five were Esapekka Lappi and Takamoto Katsuta, both of whom will be feeling more settled after each suffered separate setbacks during shakedown on Wednesday. Lappi’s i20 N sustained 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 but he incurred a 10sec penalty for a jump 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-specification Škoda Fabia - albeit not scoring WRC2 points this weekend = snuck in ahead of the Puma of Jourdan Serderidis, who completed the top 10.

Action gets underway at 08:00 local time on Friday morning with the first of the day’s six stages. The biggest challenge will be the 30.62km Kedong stage, which makes up the finale of the morning and afternoon loops.

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