Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin all started cautiously this morning, but McRae in particular raised his pace during the day as he kept leader Tommi Mäkinen within reach. The Scot, twice a winner in Kenya, set a very fast time in the day's last section to close to within 16 seconds of the top spot overnight. Sainz felt he was too careful in CS2 and he lost some time as a result, and then the Spaniard had to stop and change a puncture in the very next section. He still holds third overnight, however. Martin felt a tyre fly off the rim in CS2 and the Estonian lost time as he stopped to change the wheel. He occupies sixth after his first full day of Safari competition.
Colin McRae said: “We've obviously found quite a good speed and the car's been pretty reliable, so we have to be reasonably happy. The time in the last stage surprised me, because I thought it was just a good clean run.”
Marcus Grönholm became the first major retirement on the Safari Rally on this morning's opening competitive section. The Finn was barely 17 kilometres into the stage when his engine stopped suddenly and despite the best efforts of the world championship leader and his navigator Timo Rautiainen, they were unable to restart the car. The 206 WRCs of Harri Rovanperä and Richard Burns were more reliable, although both suffered broken right-front shock absorbers in CS3. Burns's breakage was the more spectacular, since it spat out fluid and kick-started a small fire that the world champion had to stop to extinguish. Gilles Panizzi lost more than 20 minutes on today's first section, when his car suffered rear suspension damage.
Both Harri Rovanperä and Richard Burns have adopted cautious strategies on today's opening leg. Rovanperä was the quicker of the pair throughout, keeping his 206 in the top six for much of the day. He ended the leg in fourth. Burns has been feeling unwell today and he also felt his pacenotes might be too cautious. The world champion lost time when a shock absorber exploded near the end of CS3 and he had to stop to put out a small fire as a result. He still ended the day in eighth, however. Marcus Grönholm, meanwhile, became the first major retirement on the event after his engine expired 17km into the day's opening section. The fourth 206 of Gilles Panizzi broke an anti-roll bar in today's opening section and the Frenchman lost 20 minutes when he stopped to change the offending part.
Marcus Grönholm said: “The engine problem was like flicking a mains switch - the revs just died and that was it. We tried everything - changing the ECU, changing plugs - but nothing seemed to work.”
Harri Rovanperä said: “Maybe we'll have to push a little harder tomorrow, because the guys in front are pulling away quite a lot. But I'll make a decision after I've seen how the stage conditions are when we go over them in reverse direction.”
Kenneth Eriksson's Skoda Octavia lost the tread block off its left-rear tyre on this morning's opening section, then the Swede felt that the front of the car went very soft in CS3. Toni Gardemeister complained of the opposite for much of today - the young Finn even suffered chest pains because the suspension in his car was too hard for the rocky surfaces. He suffered rear shock absorber and driveshaft problems in CS3, then retired with left-rear suspension failure in CS4. Roman Kresta's Octavia has been generally reliable, although the Czech driver did complain of softening shock absorbers as well.
The Octavia WRCs of Toni Gardemeister and Kenneth Eriksson made strong starts to the event, and both were running in the top six after two stages (Eriksson held an early third overall). They both hit suspension and driveshaft problems in the afternoon, but Eriksson still holds fifth overnight. His younger team-mate retired from a top-10 placing with rear suspension failure in the day's final section. The third Octavia of Roman Kresta lies outside of the top 10 after a generally troublefree day in which the Czech driver tried to gain experience of the Kenyan roads.
Kenneth Eriksson said: “We started well but it's worrying that we're starting to get suspension and driveshaft problems because the roads aren't going to get any smoother. All we can do is keep a good pace and see what happens.”
Sebastien Loeb lost time in today's opening section when he bent a front wishbone in his Citroen Xsara and had to drive 35km with an ill-handling car. Then his team-mate Thomas Radstrom broke his Xsara's steering in CS2 and had to compete more than 40km with no left-front wheel and navigator Denis Giraudet perched in the car's boot to act as counterbalance. Both Xsaras then hit rear shock absorber problems in CS3 and Loeb then suffered two rear punctures in CS4.