The dream of nine time World Rally Championship (WRC) winner, Sebastien Loeb, winning the Safari Rally was smoked out after his Ford Puma Rally1 hybrid car developed mechanical problems in Naivasha yesterday.
The French legend had completed all the early morning stages in Geothermal 1, Kedong1 including winning the opening stretch in Loldia 1 before his super car developed mechanical gremlins, forcing him out of the sixth leg of the WRC series.
“The car got problems after clearing the last stage of the morning run which is Kedong 1. I was headed to the Service Park and just 5km away the vehicle started to burn, the engine stopped, the car stopped,” frustrated Loeb told Standard Sports.
Following the problem, the M-Sport Ford speedster could not return for the grueling evening round that traversed the same route.
“For today, I’m out for sure. I don’t know if we will repair the vehicle in time for tomorrow (Saturday).If we can restart tomorrow then we have to check what’s really broken in the car, but we will decide on what we will do tomorrow later in the day,’ he underlined.
Should he decide to continue with the rally today, Loeb will be docked 10 minutes each for every stage skipped meaning he is technically out of the Safari Rally.
“If I return, I’ll just drive here and only race for fun, nothing more serious from now,” said Loeb who was making a return to the Kenyan showpiece after 20 years.
Loeb finished the championship fifth in 2002 with high hopes of staging a great run, if not winning the competition this year.
M-Sport Ford drivers, Adrien Fourmaux and Craig Breen were other big guns who fell by the wayside on the day after their cars developed problems.
Meanwhile, Toyota maintained the lead on the second day of the Safari Rally through series leader Kalle Rovanpera who topped the standings in 1:20:58.1.
The Finn won three of the six stages contested, eclipsing team-mates Sebastien Ogier who led the Kasarani Super Special Stage on Thursday and Elfyn Evans who took command of the leaderboard yesterday morning.
"Overall the first two stages were quite nice, but this was tricky as expected. Everything should be fine with the air filter, but at the beginning I felt I had no power,” Rovanpera said.
“After the dust we had no power at all, but I don't know why I felt like that at the beginning,” he added.
Leg defending champion Ogier finished a distant sixth in 1:23:06.3 despite bagging three of the stages. Ogier who was slowed by a puncture in the last race in Kedong said : “There were a lot of rocks everywhere in Geothermal, I didn’t expect many rocks on this one, and this stage had looked a bit cleaner in the recce.
“I had drama in Kedong, I had no power at the end and it was very difficult to go through this stage. Loldia was not too bad, I think the worst is still coming, I struggled a bit towards the end, but it was okay.
Thierry Neuville of Hyundai, who finished a step ahead of Ogier in 1:21:55.6, also suffered several punctures in both morning and evening.
"The car was full of dust from mid-stage. Visibility was very bad and we had a puncture on the last 5km. Kedong was an interesting stage and we tried to survive, but with the dust it was very difficult,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kenyan drivers too found the race very tough on day 2 with most getting stuck in Loldia for the best part of the day.
“Because of the jam, we had to skip to Geothermal which was the only stage we did in the morning,” Steve Mwangi said.