Geoff Bell of South Africa clocked 2:29:00.5 to command the leaderboard on Day 1 of the East African Safari Classic Rally (EASCR) that cruised through Mombasa to Voi on Sunday.
He beat defending champion Baldev Singh Chager of Kenya by 01:24.4 as the Kenyan crossed the finish line in 2:30:24.9 to lie second overnight.
Eugene Amos of Italy clocked 2:30:24.9 to finish third. The speedsters covered three stages on the day, covering 358.86km.
The first stage from Sokoke to Samburu (120km) was bagged by the Italian before Chager took charge of stage two, an 89km stretch from MacKinnon to Mwatate.
The Italian was back at it again in the last 32km stage that meandered from Mariwenyi to Ngutuni.
"We drove through scenic stages. So far we have seen a number of gazelles on our way hoping in and out the side of the roads for a good 500 metres and of course animals here have the right of way, so you have to respect that," said Chager, who is being navigated by long-term partner Gareth Dawe.
Chager is determined to replicate the achievement of his compatriot, Rob Collinge, who secured back-to-back wins in 2003 and 2005.
Phillip Kyriazi of Kenya, who is being navigated by his son George in a Ford Escort, said he found the Sunday route very rough following their 27th finish on the day (3:07:23.1).
"I think we just don't want to be heroes in this, so we will just go slowly. We just want to finish," Phillip said.
Swedish duo of David Von Schikel and Per Bjokman was elated to have ended the day 12th in 2:51:06.2 in their Porsche 911.
The two suffered a flat tyre that slowed them down despite striving to finish the day's sections.