NAIROBI (KENYA) – After the first leg of the Safari Rally Kenya on Friday, the Belgian team of Thierry Neuville and Martin Wydaeghe won three of the six tough gravel and sandy stages to take an 18.8-second lead.

Despite finishing the last stage with two flat tyres, the Belgian was able to claw out an edge over teenage Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta thanks to two dazzling laps on the rally’s longest track.

Neuville’s Estonian teammate Ott Tänak likewise finished the final stage of the day with no rubber on a front rim and was able to maintain his position.

The Finn could have continued without penalties because to a Safari ruling on outside aid to clear a car from the stage, but he chose not to and instead received a 10 minute penalty for failing to complete the stage.

On the morning’s loop, Sébastien Ogier wasn’t his usual immaculate self, with an overshoot, a small coming together with a trackside ridge, and a crash.

Briton In his Ford, Gus Greensmith finished fifth, while Adrien Fourmaux was sixth after achieving the third fastest time on the final stage of the day.

On the first loop, both Toyota Gazoo Racing and Hyundai Shell Mobis lost one of their vehicles. Elfyn Evans’ WRC title hopes were dashed when he clouted a rock just 300 meters from the finish line of the inaugural Kedong stage.

It was a crushing defeat for the Welshman, who, like Hyundai opponent Dani Sordo, was forced into Rally2 due to a single blunder. In an incident that could have been significantly more costly in terms of damage, Sordo also clouted a rock, spun his i20, and was sidelined for the day.

“In the straight line, we hit a little stone in the middle of the road, which shattered the suspension arm,” Sordo explained. “We’re here to stay,” she says.

“Just as I was approaching the conclusion of a rapid part, there was a stone that was sticking out more into the road than I had anticipated,” Evans explained. Unfortunately, we collided with it with the front right wheel, which severely damaged the suspension.”

With both Lorenzo Bertelli and Oliver Solberg out on the morning loop, Czech driver Martin Prokop (Ford Fiesta) found himself in ninth place for maximum WRC2 points until an accident on the penultimate stage forced him to retire.