Safari Rally Kenya 2024 – Day One Report – Friday

The first full day of the Safari Rally saw the crews tackle 132km’s over six stages and there was drama in all the stages. The first stage held on Thursday in Nairobi saw Thierry hold the lead over Ott, with Kalle in third.

Of course, heading into the Friday’s stages would be Thierry who would open the road throughout the day.

First up then was SS2 Loldia 1 – 19.17 km and Kalle was fastest from Esapekka and Ott. The Finns pace saw him move into the lead from Ott and fellow Finn EP who jumped two positions on the leader board and into third overall. Unfortunately, Elfyn suffered a puncture in this stage and could only manage the sixth best time. In WRC2 Gus was fastest from Oliver and Kajetan and these three held the last three positions in the overall top ten.

Next was SS3 Geothermal 1 – 13.12 km and the fast stage saw Thierry hit a bank on the outside of a left-hand corner, damaging his rear tyre and also the bodywork on the right-hand side. The Belgian dropped back just one place to fifth overall. Meanwhile Kalle was fastest in the stage from Esapekka and Ott. The two Hyundai drivers swapped positions as well, Esapekka now into second overall. Meanwhile in WRC2 Gus was fastest again from Kajetan and Nicolas, whilst Oliver suffered a puncture and lost a minute and fifty-one seconds and fell five positions to seventh in the category.

The last morning stage, SS4 Kedong 1 – 31.50 km and the longest stage of the day as well. The top positions were again filled by Kalle, Ott and Esapekka. Welshman, Elfyn was on the move, passing Thierry for fifth position. In WRC2 Oliver suffered a second puncture in the second stage in a row and the Swede lost a further one minute and forty-six seconds. Meanwhile Gus remained quickest from Charles Munster and Diego Dominguez.

After the lunch time service break, SS5 Loldia 2 – 19.17 km and Kalle continued his good run winning from Takamoto and Elfyn, a Toyota 1-2-3! Unfortunately, EP failed to finish the stage after suffering transmission failure. Ott now moved into second overall and Takamoto was third. In WRC2 Oliver was fastest from Gus and Kajetan. The Pole moved back into second place in the category, pushing Diego down to third.

Into SS6 Geothermal 2 – 13.12 km and Kalle was making this look easy, even though it certainly was not, winning the stage from his teammates Takamoto and Elfyn. It was a second stage disaster for the Hyundai team, with Ott crashing out after hitting a rock in the middle of a corner and damaging his steering on the right-hand side. Gus continued to set the pace in WRC2 winning the stage from Oliver and Nicolas. The Frenchman moved up one place as well and into third place.

The final stage then of the day, and Kalle completed a full six stage winning streak in SS7 Kedong 2 – 31.50 km going fastest again from Thierry and Elfyn. The Welshman’s pace moved him ahead of teammate Takamoto. In WRC2 Oliver was fastest again from Gus and Kajetan and the Swede moved into third place in the category.

Let’s hear from the drivers and take a look at the top positions.

Classification after Day One

1  K. Rovanperä  J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid 1:16.22.6
2  E. Evans  S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +56.9
3  T. Katsuta  A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid +1:00.8
4  T. Neuville  M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid +1:07.3
5  A. Fourmaux  A. Coria Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +1:46.6
6  G. Munster  L. Louka Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +3:34.2
7  G. Greensmith  J. Andersson Škoda Fabia RS +6:51.3
8  J. Serderidis  F. Miclotte Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid +9:11.7
9  K. Kajetanowicz  M. Szczepaniak Škoda Fabia RS +10:14.3
10  O. Solberg  E. Edmondson Škoda Fabia RS +10:28.8

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Kalle Rovanperä

“It has been a really good day for us. Our plan was to try and make the most of our starting place today. I felt I could manage the pace quite well. I was quite happy pushing hard when the conditions were good, and then especially this afternoon taking care of the car and the tyres in the rough places and still we could have good times. It’s still a long rally ahead and even a lead of almost one minute is not a lot here because anything can happen: if some big rain comes we know that the gaps can be huge, and you can lose a lot of time. So, we’ll just try to keep on working the same way as we did today.”

Elfyn Evans

“It’s been a tough day out there like it always is on the Safari Rally. It’s very easy to get caught out here as we’ve seen again today. We didn’t have the best morning: it was just not really flowing and working as well as I’d like, and we didn’t have the speed we wanted either. I was struggling a bit with the balance and my own rhythm and was maybe a bit too conservative in places. After making some changes in service, we made a step in the right direction this afternoon and the times were a bit better, and I enjoyed the driving a bit more. The gaps behind are still quite tight and with such a long day tomorrow with perhaps some unpredictable conditions, we can’t count too much yet.”

Takamoto Katsuta

“It’s been a pretty good day and a clean day. The stages were quite rough like we expected, but the car was working well, and I felt comfortable. I was just following my strategy to be patient and not do anything crazy. I felt good in the first two stages this afternoon, the times were good even though I was not really pushing. Then on the last one with a soft surface, you need to really push to gain the time and if you’re careful like I was, you’re easily losing time. Tomorrow is a big day where anything can happen, and I will just keep doing what I’m doing, try to stay on the road and focus on myself.”


Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“It was a challenging and exhausting day. We were fighting with a few little issues, but it was mainly the puncture which cost us time. We had a bit of a moment this afternoon where I completely lost the steering and we ended up on two wheels, but luckily we got away with it. I think we fought hard, but we would have preferred better results, so we will keep fighting tomorrow. It’s not nice to see my team-mates retire – another bad day here in Kenya for us – which also made it hard for me to attack with full confidence in the really rough sections in case I faced the same issues.”

2024 FIA World Rally Championship Round 3,
Safari Rally Kenya 2024, 27-31 March 2024
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Action during Day 1 of WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2024
Photographer: Romain Thuillier
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“The incident that caused our retirement was nothing special, but I guess it’s typical of Safari Rally Kenya. The rock was kind of hidden and I couldn’t really react as the road was narrow with banks on the side. I had nowhere to go so I had to take the rock, but the rock was far too big, and it put us off the road. I hit the bank and that caused the damage to the car; there was nothing we could do to avoid it.”

Esapekka Lappi

“The day was going well until we had to retire due to a gearbox issue; first the car was front-wheel drive only after an acceleration, and ultimately I couldn’t move the car, so we had to roll back from the hairpin because we were stuck. There was no major impact or noise – of course there were plenty of impacts on the stages, but none of them should have caused this problem. It is a shame as the splits were good, as was this morning. We lost ground to Kalle, but I was very satisfied with the speed that I had in the car, and it was going well until that failure.”


Oliver Solberg

“The Safari Rally is never going to be an easy one and today we really had to work hard,” said the Monster Energy-backed Oliver. “The two punctures were frustrating and it’s quite random with this surface. It’s so rough in places, it’s hard to know where the punctures are coming. You come through some sections, and you feel a few impacts and you think there is going to be a problem and there’s nothing.

“The main thing is that we are back on the podium, and we have a very long way still to run in this rally. With some weather changes maybe, coming tomorrow, anything can happen – the priority now is to stay on the podium for WRC2 and survive whatever else the Safari is going to throw at us.”



What a Friday we were treated to then! Kalle was really on form throughout the day taking every stage win. He leads a Toyota 1-2-3 after the first full day. His teammates Elfyn and Takamoto both had mixed days but kept it clean to hold second and third positions.

At Hyundai all three of their crews suffered problems, with Ott crashing out, Esapekka suffering a mechanical failure and Thierry getting a puncture but at least being able to continue. The three will be back tomorrow and Thierry will hope he can gain some positions and maybe get ahead of Elfyn.

It was a solid day for the M-Sport team, with Adrien and Gregoire delivering good pace and the pair are holding fifth and sixth overall. Let’s see what Saturday’s action brings.


Saturday will have 160km’s over six stages. Maybe there will be some rain that will come and change the conditions in the stages?

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