M-Sport Ford's Ott Tanak in action during the opening Kasarani Super Special Stage of the 2023 WRC Safari Rally in Nairobi. [WRC]

The 2019 World Rally Champion (WRC) Ott Tanak started his bid for this year's Safari Rally title by bagging the opening Kasarani Super Special Stage in Nairobi on Thursday.

The Estonian speedster clocked 3:14.3 to win the 4.84km stretch that was characterised by dust, mud and dirt.

"Safari Rally Kenya is a demanding one. Let's see after Saturday. I would say this day will tell us a lot," the Ford Puma Rally1 driver, whose pace notes were called out by Jarveoja Martin, stated.

Eight time world champion Sebastein Ogier of Toyota Gazoo finished second in 3:14.4.

Ogier, who is looking for a double in the Safari Rally, was just late by a second against Tanak who is determined to break Toyota's dominance in the seventh leg of the series, considered to be the toughest in the globe.

Last year, Toyota bagged a 1-2-3-4 finish in the circuit, repeating their 1993 feat in the leg.

"Today, it was similar stages to the previous two years, but different conditions. A bit more rough from what we have seen in some recce. I need some Kenyan gods this weekend to help me. Luck will be needed!," Ogier underlined. Reigning World and Safari Rally champion Kalle Rovanpera ended the day third in 3:16.7.

The 23 year old Finn said he found the stage quite different from last season, but assured to do his best to defend the championship this year.

"We will keep it steady, we will keep up with the momentum in the coming days," Rovanpera stated.

Rovanpera won the shakedown at Ndulele Conservancy in Loldia, in Naivasha on Wednesday.

Hyundai's Thierry Neuville , who topped the sixth leg of this year's series in Italy early this month, was fourth in 3:17.0 as Toyota's Elfyn Evans (3:17.6) and Esapekka Lappi of Hyundai (3:18.3) finished fifth and sixth in that order.

It's the first time that Lappi and his navigator Ferm Janne are visiting Africa to compete in the Kenyan event.

"Thanks to the team - they fixed the car perfectly and I had a very good feeling. This stage is one that you can really enjoy and it was very sloppy. I will try to enjoy tomorrow," said Katsuta Takamoto of Toyota who finished seventh in 3:19.4. Carl Tundo, who was the best placed Kenyan on the day at 17th in 3:35.9, said: "It's been a long road getting here. I've just switched over to rally mode, and this is a lot easier!"

FIA Star driver McRae Kimathi was 21st in 3:47.4 as Kenya National Rally Championship defending champion Karan Patel (3:49.5) finished in 18th place.

"We are really looking forward to it. So far, not the best start, but it's alright. It's early days yet," stated FIA Star driver Anwar Hamza who ended the day 26th in 3:50.5.

Today, the contest will return to Naivasha and will traverse tough terrains of Loldia (19.17 km), Geothermal (13.12 km) and the fesh fesh filled Kedong (30.62 km).

The stages will be repeated in the afternoon.

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