NAIROBI, April 3- Former Finnish and British champion Tapio Laukkanen in a Subaru Impreza won Day One’s three stages outright to take a 1.25minute overnight lead of the KCB Safari Rally around Konza and Machakos on Friday.
Kenyan pair Raaji Bharij and four-time Safari winner Carl “Flash” Tundo followed to round the top three ahead of Jassi Chatthe and Manvir Baryan who closed the leading five drivers of the three-day rally that was flagged off by Cabinet Secretary for Sport, Hassan Wario in Nairobi earlier in the morning.
Tapio drove his R4 Subaru Impreza like a man possessed with his healthy lead over the local boys true testament of his awesome driving skill.
“The essence was to go flat out today and maximise my lead as much as possible because I know that the next two days will be challenging and rough,” said Tapio.
And after returning to the last service-in at Konza which also acted as the day’s refuel zone, the leader who aims to emulate illustrious compatriots of old such Juha Kankkunnen and Tommy Makinnen as Safari champion was content with the smooth and flat-out roads that day one had to offer.
Friday’s leg was staged on closed private farm roads in Konza and Machakos with the cars heading back to the capital for an overnight stay at KICC.
Crew will revs off for Mount Kenya region at 5.30am (+3GMT) Saturday to tackle a 420km run of day 2 which traverses Lengetia in Naro Moru, Loldaiga in Nanyuki, Ngare Ndare, Nkunga and finish at Meru ASK showground where the first car is expected in at 1.30pm.
Many of the top drivers admitted candidly it was a tall order chasing the “Flying Finn” whilst others forecast the next two days could prove quite unforgiving considering his incredible stage times.
Tapio opened a 36 seconds lead from Bharij on CS1 and extended it further to 53 in the second which was based around the famous Machakos People’s Park.
Baldev Chager, who is the national rally and Safari defending champion, was left to rue a small hiccup on his pace-notes which sent him further down the field when he wrong slotted CS1 Lisa Ranch Stage.
Bharij had a clean first stage with no incidences but survived scares in the second.
“CS 1 was a really nice. We went into the next stage and unfortunately, we felt a little bit of a pull on the tarmac, so we thought we had pulled the alignment out but I was a bit confused over having hit anything. It turns out that we had a puncture, so a kilometre into the Special Stage the tyre fell off the rim, so we weren’t very first in there but i think we were okay.
“Unfortunately coming into service we have had problems with our fuel pump,” the runner-up Raaji explained.
Local hero Alastair Cavenagh was grappling with electrical problems after the first two stages lamenting,“We didn’t have a very good start we actually had an electrical problem which dragged us quite a bit. So we got out of the car see what it was then get back in and get our belts on.”
Quentin was happy with his Skoda Fabia S2000 incidentally on his second outing and added that Kenyans will have no choice but to chase Tapio.
“It’s a long event. It’s a long way to go. The car is performing really well, although it loses a bit of altitude, then makes up in time so and we are just getting used to it, the last time we drove it was September last year on the Safari.
“To be honest everybody in the top ten and top 15 are really fast and could take this rally. Its an endurance rally and everybody is going too quick. Everybody has to get faster and keep up with Tapio,” the local youngster added.
Ugandan Jas Mangat said the first run on Lisa was good “but we were just keeping it a bit safe in the morning.”
“We just had to go back to service, finished the last stage and go back out and so far we are pleased with what’s going on, we are getting used to the car again. The event is good and the biggest challenge is the longer competitive stages. It’s going to be a long rally so at the end of tomorrow we will be able to strategise,” he underscored.
DAY ONE LEADER BOARD
- Tapio Laukkanen (Subaru) 46.37
- Raaji Bharij (EVOX) 48.02
- Carl Tundo (Proton) 48.36
- Jaspreet Chatthe (EVOX) 49.02
- Manvir Baryan (Ford Fiesta) 49.05
- Onkar Rai (EVOX) 49.21
- Baldev Chager (EVOX) 49.45
- Ian Duncan (EVOX) 49.46
- Karan Patel (EVOX) 50.01
- Jas Mangat (EVOX) 50.07
- Quentin Mitchell (Skoda Fabia) 50.36