The first four stages in the ongoing WRC Safari Rally in Naivasha has already confirmed that the battle is now between Toyota and Hyundai.
Toyota Gazoo Racing team made a clean sweep of the opening Super Special Stage in Kasarani on Thursday, with world champion Sebastien Ogier winning the dust filled battle in 3:21.5.
His team-mates, Kalle Rovanpera (3.21.8) and Elfyn Evans (+0.7), completed the podium sweep in that order.
This left Hyundai team, led by 2019 champion Ott Tanak scratching their heads on what could have gone wrong.
Tanak, who broke the Toyota dominance at Kasarani by finishing fourth (+2.5), went back to the drawing board with his team-mates Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo and Oliver Solberg.
And to show how their master plan was superb, Hyundai won round one of stage 2,3 and 4 located at Chui Lodge, Kedong, and Oserian in that order yesterday morning.
Neuville was the Hyundai marksman in the 12.75km Chui Lodge contest held on the Southern shore of Lake Naivasha.
He clocked 13:14.2 in the competition that also traversed the Oserengoni Wildlife Conservancy which is a home to lions, leopards, giraffes, antelopes and buffalos.
Rovanpera (Toyota) was second (+0.9) as Tanak (+1.2), Evans (+2.0) and Ogier (2.2) finished in that order.
Neuville carried on with Hyundai dominance as the adrenaline charged spectacle proceeded to the 32.68km Kedong circuit (stage 3). Kedong is sandwiched between Chui Lodge and Oserian.
It is also the longest stretch of the ongoing Safari Rally. Neuville timed 30:06.5 to widen his lead in Kedong as again Rovanpera, Tanak and Ogier ended the scenic morning cruise in that order.
The Hyundai speedster was still the man to beat in stage 4 at Oserian where he was first at the finish line in 42:48.9.
Ogier had a broken suspension and this saw him end Kedong a distant seventh.
Both Hyundai and Toyota suffered blows when Evans (Toyota) and Dani Sordo (Hyundai) crashed out of the championship on Friday.
Evans’ Safari Rally Kenya hopes took a nosedive just 300 metres from the end of Friday morning’s Kedong (SS3) stage.
The Welshman and co-driver Scott Martin clouted a rock on the inside of a fast right bend which shattered the front right wheel and suspension on his Toyota Yaris.
The car spun in the next corner and with the damage clear, Evans reversed the car off the road, his day over.
Sordo became the second big name casualty in the dramatic Kedong (SS3) stage.
He was less than 4km from the finish of the blisteringly fast dirt road test when his car oversteered sideways off the stage and ploughed through the vegetation before coming to rest in a ditch.
“The Safari is a tough course, the rough conditions here already shows how difficult it is,” Ogier told Standard Sports. “I had to slow down after I suffered a broken suspension, hopefully we are going to fix this and see how we play catch up with the Hyundai squad.”
Tanak admitted that the Kenya’s competition is now between Japan and the Korean car manufacturers.
“I’m happy we battled tooth and nail to snatch the mid-morning runs in the stages. But I have to say the Safari is proving very tough. I think the team with great endurance will carry the day,” said Tanak. Neuville attributed his level of concentration to the wins.
“The secret is to protect the car and bring it home in one piece. There’s a lot of animals along the way but I’m glad I haven’t been blocked by any barrier. I hope to replicate same energy in round two in the afternoon,” said Neuville.
Andrea Adamo who is the Team Principal, Hyundai Motorsport, has stated they are out in full swing to use Safari Rally to put their house in order.
This follows their disastrous outing in Sardegna, Italy early this month.