Safari Rally Kenya – Day One Report

Safari Rally Kenya – Day One Report

Naivasha, Kenya – March 29, 2024
Hyundai Motorsport has felt the full might of the treacherous Safari Rally Kenya on the first full day of competition at the third FIA World Rally Championship round of 2024.
All three Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid crews were caught out by surprises on the stages, with Esapekka Lappi and Ott Tänak forced to stop their positive charge prematurely.
Following the 4.84km Super Special Kasarani stage on Thursday, which featured a Hyundai Motorsport 1-2 finish, Safari Rally Kenya action began in earnest on Friday. Loldia (SS2/5, 19.17km) opened both loops, followed by Geothermal (SS3/6, 13.12km) and Kedong (SS4/7, 31.50km).
It was a day of survival for Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe, who ended the day in fourth overall.
The Belgians claimed an early lead on Thursday’s super special stage, but their early road order on Friday saw them lose ground to later runners.
A puncture on SS3 Geothermal 1 resulted in bodywork damage to their car and saw them drop further down the order to sixth.
They spent the remainder of the day determined to recover; the second fastest time on SS7 Kedong 2 narrowed the gap to the podium places to just 6.5 seconds.
Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm had enjoyed a good morning, benefitting as one of the late runners in the order from the cleaning effect on the stages.
Although the Finns were cautious on the stages and experienced a few scares, the #4 Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid crew had climbed from fifth to second overall by the conclusion of the mammoth SS4 Kedong 1.
However, disaster struck on the first stage after mid-day service, and the Finns retired with a transmission issue on SS5 Loldia 2. The team is confident the crew will return on Saturday.
Estonians Tänak and Martin Järveoja had “no drama” on the morning loop, consistently finishing in the top three, however they were less fortunate in the afternoon.
Having inherited second place from their team-mates on SS5, the crew hit a rock just a few kilometres into the next stage, pitching them into a bank.
This caused damage to their steering as well as their retirement from the day.

Crew Notes: Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (#11 Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid)
Belgians claimed stage win on SS1 on Thursday
Puncture on SS3 lost the Belgians crucial time in fight for podium places
Neuville said: “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.”

Crew Notes: Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (#8 Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid)
#8 crew claimed three top-three stage times on Friday morning
Misfortune on SS6 brought positive Safari start to an early end
Tänak said: “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.”

Crew Notes: Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (#4 Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid)
Finns claimed hat-trick of top-three stage times on morning loop
Retired from second overall on SS5 with a transmission issue
Lappi said: “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.”

Hyundai Motorsport President and Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul said: “It has been a difficult first proper day of action here in Kenya, with a number of incidents impacting our three cars. After a decent start, Thierry suffered a puncture, which meant that he lost some positions. It was otherwise clear that our pace was very strong here, as shown by both Ott and EP who were in very good positions by mid-day service. Unfortunately, the afternoon stages were even more eventful, with EP experiencing a gearbox issue that we will investigate further. Ott hit a rock that was unearthed by the previous car in the stage and he went straight into the bank, causing him to retire for the day. We are analysing our ability to restart tomorrow with the aim of scoring as many points as possible with all three of our cars on Sunday.”

Saturday at a Glance
Six stages feature on Saturday’s itinerary, the longest day of Safari Rally Kenya with a competitive distance of 160.96km.
Soysambu (SS8/11, 29.32km), Elmenteita (SS9/12, 15.08km) and Sleeping Warrior (SS10/13, 36.08km) are each contested twice; rain is expected to feature in the weather forecast.

Hyundai Motorsport

 

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