World champion Sebastien Ogier clocked 3:21.5 to win the WRC Safari Rally Super Special Stage at Kasarani in Nairobi on Thursday.
The French speed merchant went head-to-head against his perennial rival Ott Tanak of Estonia in the opening seconds of the adrenaline-filled race.
Ogier proved why he is the seven-time champion with jaw-dropping drifts, jumps, and sweeping curves that beat Tanak to the tape in the 4.84km circuit.
“This is a warning that tough times are ahead for my opponents,” Ogier said.
“Tomorrow is going to be the real start. It has been amazing to see such a big crowd. Tomorrow some tough stuff is coming,” he added.
Tanak, the 2019 WRC champion, finished fourth in +2.5.
Ogier’s victory at the expansive panoramic Kasarani course is a boost to the Toyota Gazoo Racing team that is looking forward to bagging the driver’s title and the manufacturer gong this season.
“I’m here in Kenya to win the Safari Rally, bag the WRC title and exit the rally scene next year,” Ogier told Standard Sports when he jetted into the country on Sunday night.
Kalle Rovanpera clocked 3.21.8 (+0.3) to emerge second in the thrilling Kasarani round that drove area residents out of their brick-walled houses.
The hundreds of spectators cheered him on as his roaring Toyota Yaris swam in a pool of dust under the clear blue Nairobi skies to beat Hyundai’s Dani Sordo to the finish line.
“Everything went well, it was a fine race for me,” said Rovanpera whose pace notes were called out by Jonne Haltunnen.
Elfyn Evans of Wales, also of Toyota, was third +0.7 seconds back.
He raced against Thierry Neuville of Hyundai who emerged fifth in +0.5 further back.
Takamoto Katsuta (+5.6), Gus Greensmith (+6.1) and Oliver Solberg (7.9) finished in that order.
“The race was very safe, I’m happy,” said Katsuta who went abreast with Gus before beating the latter at the tape.
Solberg, 19, who was the latest inclusion in the Hyundai team to Kenya, said his performance gave him a fantastic reason to look forward to the charged weekend.
Other thrilling races pitted Kenyan duo of Hamza Anwar and McRae Kimathi, and Carl Tundo and Onkar Rai among others.
The Kasarani stage followed a colourful opening ceremony in central Nairobi, with competitors flagged away by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and Heritage, Amina Mohamed.