Unrelenting Ogier Leads Friday's WRC Safari As Rovanpera and Evans Lock Out Toyota Trio

The 2023 WRC Safari Rally stage events kicked off early Friday morning at 08:00 local time in Naivasha, Kenya, with the Toyota Gazoo Racing team garnering momentum to relive last season's 1-2-3-4 finish but instead managed to settle for a trio after Hyundai's Esapekka Lappi squeezed in at fourth place ahead of Takamoto Katsuta.
Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Yaris 7 photos
Photo: Twitter/@TGR_WRC
Toyota Gazoo Racing GR YarisToyota Gazoo Racing GR YarisToyota Gazoo Racing GR YarisHyundai Motorsport i20 NHyundai Motorsport i20 NM-Sport Ford Puma Rally1
During Thursday's Kasarani Super Special stage, M-Sport Ford's Ott Tanak claimed the quickest time through the purpose-built 4.84-kilometer (3 miles) stage. But on Friday's opener, mother nature presented the wild side of the African boonies, forcing the Estonian M-Sport Ford rally driver to slow down for Kenyan wildlife.

"There is no story. We had a group of Zebras, and so we had to stop for them a few times," Tanak tweeted about his unlikely encounter.

Tanak wasn't the only driver who crossed paths with Africa's exotic wildlife. Frenchman and Hyundai Motorsports driver Thierry Neuville had his struggles with a tiny but equally frightening interruption - an African bee.

African bees are not your typical Winnie the Pooh fairy tale bumble bees. They are a hostile invasive species. When provoked, they'll launch coordinated defensive maneuvers that can end up deadly.

Somehow, a bee managed to access Neuville's Hyundai i20 N, shaving off 8.7 seconds of the driver's time as he helplessly tried to concentrate on the task ahead.

"Very difficult. It's very shaky in there, and we got kicked off the line, and we had a big bee in the car! Basically, I lost my concentration in the beginning, and there was a lot of cleaning in the last section." Neuville said in a tweet.

Away from the wild encounters in the African savanna, Toyota Gazoo driver Sebastien Ogier won Friday's opener (Loldia 19.17 kilometers/ 12 miles), extending his advantage into double figures with a top two-time at the Geothermal stage (13.12 kilometers/ 8 miles).

Teammate and last year's WRC Safari rally champion, Kalle Rovanpera, caught up at the 30-kilometer (19 miles) Kedong stage after Ogier suffered a hybrid unit fault costing Frenchman 10 seconds. Elfyn Evans took third place 17 seconds after Rovanpera and locked down Toyota's top three.

Neuville came in fourth, thanks to his wild African bee mishap. Together with teammate Lappi, the Hyundai Motorsport drivers lost time after tire damage. M-Sport Ford Ott Tanak also stopped to change a wheel on his Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1 car.

Takamoto Katsuta came in fifth owing to a damaged steering arm, forcing him to stop for roadside repairs before the finale. Hyundai Motorsport Dani Sordo finished sixth 1 minute 28 seconds after Ogier.

Saturday marks the most grueling leg of the 2023 WRC Safari Rally and a possible determiner of the 70th edition winner. It covers a backbreaking 150.88 kilometers (94 miles), starting with Soysambu (29.32 kilometers/ 18.21 miles), Lake Elementaita (15.08 kilometers/ 9miles), and picturesque Sleeping Warrior Hill (31.04 kilometers/ 19 miles).

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About the author: Humphrey Bwayo
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Humphrey is a car enthusiast whose love and passion for automobiles extended into collecting, writing, driving, and working on cars. He got his passion for cars from his Dad, who spent thousands of hours working on his old junky 1970 E20 Toyota Corolla. Years later, he would end up doing the same with a series of lemons he’s owned throughout his adult life.
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