Safari Rally 2024: Neuville clinches Kasarani stage as Hyundai makes intention known

Kalle Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen splash water at the Special Super Stage at Kasarani during the WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2024 on march 28-2024. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

South Korean constructors Hyundai sent a strong warning to rivals Toyota Gazoo Racing by bagging top two places in the opening 4.84km Kasarani Super Special Stage in Nairobi as the third leg of the World Rally Championship (WRC) revved off on Thursday.

Hyundai speedster Thierry Neuville clocked 3:19.9 to beat teammate and 2019 world champion Ott Tanak by tenth of a second as reigning world champion Kalle Rovanpera of Toyota Gazoo emerged third in 3:20.7.

Fans cheer safari rally drivers during the launch of the 70th Anniversary of the World Rally Championship at KICC. March 28, 2024. [Jonah Onyango, Standar]

At the same time, Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) leader Samman Vohra started the global outing on a sour note when his Skoda Fabia had a double roll on the dusty Kasarani terrains. Five times KNRC champion Carl Tundo was the best placed Kenyan at 16th place in 3:42.9

“I feel good, it’s great to start the rally like this, but it's still a long way to go,” Neuville told Standard Sports after the sweet showdown.

“We expect a very challenging event ahead, but as Hyundai we hope we will get through the rest of the stages like this,” added Neuville.

Tanak, who linked up with the Hyundai stable last season, proved that he is slowly fitting in and will soon be a force to reckon with again.

The Estonian superstar urged his teammates to keep focus as he predicted that the weekend plan will be a tough one  to endure.

“There will be much stress, but the strategy is to stay out of trouble, that’s the only way we will be assured of victory,” stated Tanak.

Police patrol at the Special Super Stage at Kasarani during the WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2024 on march 28-2024. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Rovanpera, who had a great start in the Shakedown in Loldia on Wednesday, felt good when he was cheered on by the hundreds of spectators who had thronged the historic Kasarani.

The young Finn has not had a good season so far in the year. Last month he was shocked with a 39th place finish in Rally Sweden, a result he stated he is determined to overturn in the Safari.

“It’s nice to see all the fans on stage one. It’s quite too early, this rally is not won in a day. It is going to be a challenging one but as Toyota we are going to do our best,” stated Rovanpera.

President William Ruto poses for a photo with women rally drivers during the flagging off ceremony of the WRC at KICC Nairobi.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

Toyota have triumphed in the Safari Rally since the return of the global motorsports extravaganza to Kenya in 2021. The Japanese constructors are out for a four-peat podium sweep this year.

On the other hand, Hyundai is having a formidable lineup that is so far working for them and they are optimistic that their formula will halt Toyota’s marauding ways on Kenyan soil.

The rally, to traverse rough terrains of Naivasha from today onwards, was flagged off by President William Ruto at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi yesterday.

First off, the ramp was Tundo who was followed by reigning African Rally Champion Karan Patel.

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