On Friday morning, Thierry Neuville took the lead in the Safari Rally as the tough and tight course turned the race into a battle for survival.
Neuville won the first two of three morning stages to take the lead from Sebastian Ogier, who had won the opener the night before.
The unforgiving drive through the Kenyan bush has taken its toll.
“The only objective was not to damage the car,” said Neuville as he won stage two. “It’s already very demanding.
“Incredibly rough. Really deep ruts – I was about to roll the car through the ruts a few times,” he said. “As we can see, we have to survive.”
The Belgian finished the final stage of the morning with two slow punctures on his Hyundai but was still the second fastest.
Kalle Rovanpera won the tightest in his Toyota Yaris to pass 5.1 seconds off the lead and expressed relief rather than elation.
“It’s a big surprise,” said the Finn. “It was really bad for me.”
The morning also introduced the pilots to the fine, black “fesh-fesh” sand.
“The conditions are so bad and there are big ruts all the time,” Rovanpera said after the day’s second stage. “At the end of the stage, I had a puncture and there was so much dust in the car that I couldn’t breathe. It’s Safari for sure.”
Ott Tanak nursed his damaged Hyundai to fifth place on the final stage of the morning. He trails Neuville by 26.2sec.
“Trust me, that’s the least of the worries,” the Estonian said of the time gap.
Ogier was slowed by the failure of his Toyota’s left rear shock absorber but finished the morning stages before midday service.
“Broken suspension at the rear. I just had to pass very slowly,” said the seven-time French world champion who was seventh more than 2 minutes behind Neuville.
Elfyn Evans, who started the race second in the drivers’ standings, was the most prominent victim.
He broke the suspension of his Toyota Yaris and came to a stop with his right front wheel hanging off.
“There was a rock sticking out more in the road than I had anticipated,” said the Welshman.
“We clipped it with the right front wheel, and that was enough to break the suspension pretty badly. There’s no way to fix it or continue from here.”
Spaniard Dani Sordo is also out after going on a bush safari and spinning his Hyundai through the undergrowth.