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WRC Safari Rally: Ogier beats Loeb to lead after opening super special

Ogier was pitched against Loeb in a dusty head-to-head 4.84km Kasarani stage, held in Nairobi city centre, in front of a sizeable crowd.

The Toyota driver completed the test 1.8s faster than M-Sport’s Loeb as the pair returned to the WRC for the third starts of partial 2022 campaigns.

"It's very colourful here and the people in this country give us amazing support," said Ogier, who won the 2021 edition of the famous African rally. “The challenge is big. It's not the kind of rally I usually love because it's going to be really rough, but we will try to survive it.”

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville ended the stage with the second fastest overall time after defeating championship leader Kalle Rovanpera in what proved to be an eventful duel.

Neuville reached the finish line 0.6s shy of Ogier’s benchmark while a nightmare start eventuated for Rovanpera, who suffered a right rear puncture after almost rolling his GR Yaris at the first turn. Rovanpera lost 11.6s in the process to earlier rally leader Ogier.

Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

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Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

"It was a bit on the limit under braking,” said Rovanpera, who heads into Friday’s action in 11th position. “Nothing really happened, but we had a puncture. That was a big shame, but it's a long rally and hopefully we didn't lose too much there. Let's try to focus on the weekend now.”

Hyundai’s Ott Tanak beat Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta in his contest with the Japanese driver to set the third fastest time. The Rally Sardinia winner was 0.1s faster than Elfyn Evans, who slotted into fourth overall ahead of Loeb and Katsuta.

M-Sport’s Craig Breen left the opening stage in seventh overall, 4.4s adrift of Ogier, while Gus Greensmith (M-Sport), Oliver Solberg (Hyundai) and Adrien Fourmaux (M-Sport) rounded out the top 10.

Crews will now complete the two and half hour drive back to service park in the regional town of Naivasha, before the rally proper begins on Friday morning when the first of six traditional stages begins at 0600 BST and 0800 local time.

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