Neuville nips Tanak in WRC Safari Rally Kenya opener amid Nairobi fervor


Neuville nips Tanak in WRC Safari Rally Kenya opener amid Nairobi fervor

Festus Chuma 17:02 - 28.03.2024

Hyundai and Toyota lead Safari Rally Kenya, with Hyundai narrowly ahead in opening stage at Kasarani.

FIA World Rally Championship leader Thierry Neuville kick-started the 71st edition of the iconic Safari Rally Kenya with a razor-thin victory over teammate Ott Tanak in Thursday's opening stage. 

The event, which began amidst a sea of enthusiastic fans in the suburbs of Kenya's capital following a ceremonial start graced by President William Ruto, saw Neuville taking a marginal 0.1-second lead.

Neuville, heading into the rally with a three-point lead in the championship standings, pushed his Hyundai i20 N to its limits, edging Tanak by the slimmest of margins over the 4.84km stage. 

Close behind, reigning champion Kalle Rovanperä secured third place, just 0.7 seconds adrift, setting the stage for a fiercely competitive rally.

Speaking on his performance, Neuville expressed cautious optimism, reflecting on his past challenges in Kenya.

 "It will be a challenging event,” he stated. “Our fingers are crossed that, this time, we can get through without any technical problems or mistakes. I think we are well prepared, and I am feeling good in the car, so it's always good to start a rally like this.”

In an eventful start to the rally, Takamoto Katsuta, driving a Toyota GR Yaris identical to Rovanpera’s, showcased his prowess by claiming the fourth-best time, a mere 0.9 seconds behind, with Hyundai's Esapekka Lappi rounding out the top five.

The day, however, was not without its mishaps. Kenyan competitor Aakif Virani’s rally hopes took a hit when he rolled his car early in the stage, leading to a slight delay. 

This incident underscored the unpredictable nature of the Safari Rally, famous for its challenging terrain and unforeseen obstacles.

As the competition resumes on Friday morning, all eyes will be on the daunting 31.50km Kedong stage, known for its rigorous demands on drivers and machines alike. 

With the leaderboard tightly packed and the stakes high, the Safari Rally promises to deliver thrilling racing action as contenders navigate the treacherous Kenyan landscape in pursuit of championship glory.

Neuville's slim lead sets a tense precedent for the remaining stages, as the Belgian driver seeks to extend his championship lead and conquer the Safari Rally, a feat that has eluded him in previous attempts. 

With the rally's unpredictable nature and fierce competition, the stage is set for an exhilarating weekend of motorsport action.

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