Battle of old guards, young guns as WRC Safari rally begins
It will be an epic Safari to watch as old guards battle the young guns in this year's edition of the WRC Safari Rally.
Current WRC standings leader Kalle Rovanpera lit the shakedown charts as he showed skill and intent of outperforming last year’s WRC Safari rally winner Sebastian Ogier.
Rovanpera, who edged Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville by five hundredths of a second, had started cautiously, perhaps aware of the dangers that lie with the Safari Rally.
Ford’s legendary driver Sebastian Loeb finished a decent third on his first return to Safari rally two decades since his last race here and he couldn’t hide his delight in being back for the most iconic rallying event in the world.
“Yes, it's good to be back here. I wanted to come back because I have a lot of memories of Kenya when I was here 20 years ago. Now it’s another work for us. It’s incredible to drive in the middle of all these animals and so it's a bit like Safari. But you know, so yeah, I wanted to go back. I have heard some good returns from last year. Welcome is very huge. So I came back and I am happy to be here.”
Although Loeb acknowledges that much has changed since he was last competing in these shores, he noted that the Safari hasn’t lost its brutal and mean streak saying he will be more cautious not to hurt the vehicle early on.
“For sure the format of the rally has changed. Twenty years ago we had some very long stages for tens of kilometres and we had a helicopter on top of each car telling us there is something on the road, could be some trucks coming subject children playing here and there, so it was a different kind of rally.
“But as I said, the roads didn't improve a lot and I think it will be a rally in the same style like it's not only a question of pushing hard and being the fastest everywhere, but I think it's important to go to the end with as few problems as possible. And so the approach will not be very different from what it was,” Loeb assessed.
WRC Safari Rally defending Champion Sebastian Ogier warned that this year’s edition could be tougher saying the unpredictability of the rally makes it trickier.
“Here, you can’t bet on anybody more or less, it's hard to say what's going to happen but for sure the aim is still the same. Still, I cannot, I was never starting any rally in my career. I mean for being five or top 10 so for sure we are here to fight for the top position, and hopefully, we can do that. In some stages I believe we're going to have fun driving, some we're going to have to try to be clever, but like we always say it's easier to say that.
Thierry Neuville highlighted some of the lessons he learnt last year albeit the hard way after retiring on the last day.
“Last year, we were a little bit nervous ahead of the event and we had no clue what to expect. Obviously, last year’s experience can help us a little bit more for this year to know, what is the approach, and how we can go. I mean, we've seen a lot of trouble for everybody last year. So we know that this year we need to be well prepared as well, in case of trouble, always try to get a good solution and try to get here. I am really looking forward to at least the first event this year without any trouble and if that could be here in Kenya then that’s even nicer,” said Neuville.
Proper action begins tomorrow at Kasarani's super special stage after the official flag-off at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, KICC in Nairobi.
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