French rally driver Sébastien Ogier emerged leader in the opening round of the World Rally Championship (WRC) – Safari Rally 2021 that runs between 24 – 27 June in Kenya.
Ogier, a World Champion, set a hot early pace on Thursday with a winning time of 3 minutes, 21.5 seconds as the top three drivers were blanketed by less than a second at a thrilling opening in Nairobi.
As the FIA World Rally Championship returned to Africa for the first time in 19 years, the series leader (Ogier) was 0.3sec faster than Toyota Yaris team-mate Kalle Rovanperä in the curtain-raising 4.84km Super Special Kasarani on the edge of the capital.
Elfyn Evans completed a Toyota Gazoo Racing clean sweep of the top three, the Welshman a further 0.4sec back.
Ogier and Ott Tänak went head-to-head in the final frontline heat around the sweeping curves and jumps of the purpose-built track in front of an excited large crowd. Kicking up huge plumes of dust, Ogier beat the Hyundai i20 driver by 2.5sec.
The stage followed a colourful opening ceremony in central Nairobi, with competitors flagged away by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and the cabinet secretary for sports, culture and heritage, Amina Mohamed.
However, Uganda’s only active driver at the event Yassin Nasser finished 21st in the opener..
Four Ugandan drivers and their co-drivers, Ronald Ssebuguzi & Anthony Mugambwa, Duncan Mubiru & Umar Mayanja, Hassan Alwi & James Mwangi and Kepher Walubi & Siraje Kyambadde respectively, including 12 Kenyan pairs weren’t allowed to race in the 4.8km super special stage in Karasani due to technical issues.
The affected drivers will instead compete under the Kenyan National Championship Classification.
According to wrc.com, Friday’s opening leg covers the southern shore of Lake Naivasha. Chui Lodge (13.34km) and Oserian (18.87km) are both in the Oserengoni Wildlife Conservancy, which is home to lions, leopards, giraffes, antelope and buffalo.
They sandwich Kedong (32.68km), the longest stage of the rally and a Safari test of old. After service, all three are repeated to bring the day’s total to 129.78km.