Neuville takes Safari lead as rally moves into the wild

Hyundai man starts Friday with a blast through the Kenyan trees, with the top five split by just 2.2s


Thierry Neuville has stormed into the lead of Safari Rally Kenya on Friday morning’s opening stage, but the top five drivers are covered by just 2.2 seconds overall.

Sébastien Ogier led the contest heading into the first full-length stage of the weekend courtesy of a stage win on yesterday’s three-mile superspecial with Neuville back in fourth, five seconds behind the lead.

But as the rally headed into the Kenyan wilderness, it was Hyundai’s Neuville who set the pace – some 3.7s quicker than team-mate Ott Tänak to charge into a 0.9s lead over Toyota’s Kalle Rovanperä who was third-fastest.

“The ruts were much deeper than on the recce so I struggled a bit with the understeer,” said Neuville. “The road is narrow so it’s difficult to optimise the line, not an easy stage to start with.”

Rovanperä had started the stage in second and remained there after it, but was another to find it “really difficult”.


He explained: “I have never driven in that kind of grip or stage. You just try to get through them, but it was an OK start.”

Tänak is 0.3s behind Rovanperä overall and 1.2s back from Neuville but did have to battle some minor issues aboard his Hyundai.

“The washer is leaking all the time so all the time I have to wash, and with the dust there’s no visibility,” he revealed.

Elfyn Evans threaded his Toyota Yaris WRC through Chui Lodge in 9m54s, stopping the clocks 6.3s slower than Neuville to drop from his overnight third place to fourth. However, he did outpace his championship-leading team-mate Ogier by 0.9s to pass him overall too.

“Incredibly slippery, very sandy surface,” explained Ogier. “I don’t know how it’s going to evolve behind but difficult one for us.”

Ogier dropped 7.2s to Neuville but is just 2.2s behind in fifth place; Evans 0.2s up the road in fourth spot.

Behind the leading quintet is Dani Sordo, but larger gaps are already starting to form in the bottom half of the leaderboard.

Sordo had a bit of a shocker on Thursday’s Kasarani superspecial, dropping over 10s to hold 11th overall overnight. But he punched in the sixth-quickest time on Chui Lodge – 1.2s shy of Ogier and 8.8s adrift of Neuville’s benchmark – to move up to sixth, 14.3s away from the lead.

Takamoto Katsuta had started SS2 in that sixth spot but finds himself 6.7s in arrears, largely because of a stall at a hairpin that cost him several seconds.

M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux was 3.8s quicker than Katsuta, setting the seventh-best time, to trail overall by a slender 0.2s in eighth position. However Fourmaux, on just his third WRC event in a World Rally Car, wasn’t happy with his set-up.


Photo: M-Sport World Rally Team

“I was sure we will need some traction but to protect the car you need quite stiff set-up, but to be honest I think we were stiff,” he said. “I have no grip it’s crazy.”

A man with even less World Rally Car experience in the WRC than Fourmaux is Oliver Solberg. Solberg’s run was compromised by a moment on-stage that is understood to have knocked the geometry out on the rear of his Hyundai.

“It was a dip there so it hit the car and I hit the bank,” he said. “It was a very difficult stage, so loose, more difficult than expected.”

Solberg was still quicker than Gus Greensmith though – by 0.2s – but is 1.6s behind overall. Greensmith however felt he was struggling as one of the lower runners on the road.

“For me it just felt so rough already being further down the road, it’d be better to be at the front for sure.”

SS2 times

1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 9m47.7s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +3.7s
3 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +5.6s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +6.3s
5 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +7.2s
6 Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada (Hyundai) +8.8s

Leading positions after SS2

1 Neuville/Wydaeghe 13m14.2s
2 Rovanperä/Halttunen +0.9s
3 Tänak/Järveoja +1.2s
4 Evans/Martin +2.0s
5 Ogier/Ingrassia +2.2s
6 Sordo/Rozada +14.3s
7 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +21.0s
8 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +21.2s
9 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +29.6s
10 Oliver Solberg/Aaron Johnston (Hyundai) +31.2s