By Mwambazi lawrence

The adrenaline-fueled world of World Rally Championship (WRC) has descended upon Kenya, marking the commencement of what promises to be a grueling battle for supremacy on the rugged terrains of the East African nation. As the championship leaders, Thierry Neuville and Martin Wydaeghe, led the charge during the shakedown, anticipation hung thick in the air, with enthusiasts eager to witness a spectacle of skill and speed.

Asappeka Lappi in action during the shakedown in Naivasha

Neuville and Wydaeghe , aiming for their maiden podium finish in Kenya, exuded confidence as they navigated the opening stages. However, lurking close behind are Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin, poised to capitalize on Toyota’s recent dominance in the region. The 2023 vice champions are eyeing their third consecutive podium finish, a feat that could significantly bolster their title aspirations.

Among the contenders vying for supremacy is the star of Rally Sweden, Adrien Fourmaux, who showcased his prowess by securing the sixth-quickest time during the shakedown. Ott Tanak, cognizant of the need to strike a delicate balance between performance and reliability on the unpredictable Kenyan roads, set out to reignite his championship challenge with a top-five finish alongside co-driver Martin.

Adrien Fourmaux going all out

Fresh from clinching his second career WRC victory in Sweden, Esapekka Lappi is primed for another stellar performance in only his second appearance at the Safari Rally. Meanwhile, Takamoto Katsuta, hailed as a Kenyan specialist with two podiums in three appearances, dons a special helmet as he sets his sights on clinching his inaugural rally victory.

However, looming large on the horizon are the reigning world champions, Kalle Rovenpera and Janne Halttunen, the sole crew to have tasted victory on Kenyan soil previously. Despite facing adversity after crashing out in Sweden, the duo boasts a favorable road position, provided the weather remains dry, as they aim to defend their title.

Reigning world champion Kalle Rovenperra standing in the way

The shakedown witnessed a flurry of action, with WRC2 championship leader Oliver Solberg enduring a nerve-wracking moment on his initial run. Rovenpera stamped his authority by setting the pace, edging out Neuville by a mere two-tenths of a second, with Lappi and Tanak closely trailing in third and fifth positions respectively. Evans, Fourmaux, and Katsuta followed suit, with Gus Greensmith emerging as the quickest in the WRC2 category during his season debut.

WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg in the shakedown earlier today

As the sun sets on the opening day, anticipation mounts for the enthralling Kasarani Superspecial Stage, where the crews will lock horns in a high-octane battle spanning 4.84 kilometers. With championship aspirations hanging in the balance, the stage is set for a captivating showdown as the world’s finest rally drivers push the limits of man and machine in pursuit of glory.

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