The expansive panoramic Kasarani course was the stage of the WRC Safari Rally Super Special Stage in Nairobi on Thursday and it did not disappoint.
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.
Hundreds of spectators cheered the as the rally cars roared as they swam in a pool of dust under the clear blue Nairobi skies.
This was the first-ever stage that the current generation of drivers and WRC cars have tackled on Africa soil following 19-year absence of Safari Rally.
The reigning seven-time world champion and Day One leader Sebastien Ogier won the Super Special Stage Karasani.
Ogier, who is the series leader, ran 0.3sec faster than Toyota Yaris team-mate Kalle Rovanpera in the curtain-raising 4.84km Super Special Stage on the outskirts of Nairobi capital city.
Ogier and Ott Tanak went head-to-head in the final frontline heat around the sweeping curves and jumps of the purpose-built track in front of an excited large crowd, kicking up huge plums of dust,
Ogier beat the Hyundai i20 driver by 2.5sec. Dani Sordo survived a scare with this two-wheel moment. “Friday is going to be the real start. It has been amazing to see so much crowd,” warned the Frenchman at the stage finish as he eyed the punishing rocky roads to come.
Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans lined up along the roads from the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) in the heart of Nairobi all the way to Naivasha, some 100 kilometres away to catch a glimpse of the rally cars, to welcome the return of the World Rally Championship (WRC) to the country after 19 years of waiting.
The Safari Rally will be watched by a global audience of 70 million people on TV, adding to the annual cumulative TV audience of 900 million viewers.
Whereas KICC was sealed off from the public as a Covid-19 containment measure, Nairobians lined up along the city streets yesterday to catch a glimpse of the sleek rally cars driven by some of the best crews in the world.
The youngest competitor in the Safari Rally is 19-year-old Oliver Solberg, while the oldest is 91-year-old Sobeslow Zasada.