World Rally Championship leader Kalle Rovanperä’s Safari Rally Kenya almost turned into a disaster at the very first corner of the rally, as he came close to rolling his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 onto its roof.
Rovanperä lined up against Thierry Neuville on the opening two-by-two Kasarani superspecial and, as they approached the first turn after a long flat-out straight, the current points leader hooked his Toyota into a ditch on the outside of the corner.
Luckily for Rovanperä the car landed back on its wheels and he continued, though he’d taken the rear-right tire off the rim and damaged his car’s bodywork. In all he lost 11.6 seconds to team-mate Sébastien Ogier, who was fastest.
“It was a bit on the limit on the braking,” explained Rovanperä.
“Nothing happened really but we just had a puncture of the tire so that was a big shame. It’s a long rally so hopefully we didn’t lose too much in there. Let’s try to focus now on the rest of the weekend.”
Ogier has a 0.6s advantage over Neuville, with the second Hyundai of Ott Tänak a further half-second behind his team-mate.
“It’s not a performance rally. It’s a proper challenge,” pointed out Tänak. “Like Séb [Loeb] said in the launch, even in Dakar they don’t have challenges like this.”
Knowing the challenge ahead Loeb didn’t push particularly hard on the opening superspecial, as he slotted into fifth as the lead Ford Puma driver, 0.6s behind Elfyn Evans in fourth.
Takamoto Katsuta, who scored his first WRC podium on this event last year, was 0.1s off Loeb’s pace but ahead of the remaining M-Sport cars, with Craig Breen and Gus Greensmith 2.5s and 2.8s off the Toyota junior driver’s pace respectively.
Oliver Solberg and Adrien Fourmaux complete the top 10 overall ahead of Rovanperä.
Three-time Asia Pacific Rally champion Gaurav Gill did take an early lead in WRC2 at the wheel of the Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo usually driven by Paulo Nobre, beating the rest of the field by 2.8s on the three-mile superspecial. However he jumped the start and was handed a 10s penalty.
That meant the WRC2 regulars were moved up the order, and it is Kajetan Kajetanowicz who now leads the class in 12th place overall, with Martin Prokop his closest rival but losing to Kajetanowicz in their superspecial duel.
Kajetanowicz’s victory in that duel came despite visibility issues from the dust, which he said had led him to brake in a straight line at times. He was keen to point out that it was “not his fault” that Prokop had slowed him, though it hardly mattered given he’d gone 0.9s faster than his opponent.
1 Sébastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota) 3m18.8s
2 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +0.6s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +1.1s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +1.2s
5 Sébastien Loeb/Isabella Galmiche (M-Sport Ford) +1.8s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +1.9s
7 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +4.4s
8 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +4.7s
9 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +5.8s
10 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +7.1s
8 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +9.5s