Rovanpera – who finished last year’s event sixth despite retiring on the opening day’s last stage when he bogged his Yaris in Naivasha’s volcanic soil – set a time half-a-second faster than Thierry Neuville.

The Finn arrived at the benchmark on the second of the allotted three runs through ‘Loldia’ and hopes he can come close to replicating that speed come Friday - the first full day of competitive action.

“I think the Safari Rally will be another interesting weekend,” he said. “Of course, Sardinia was maybe not as strong a rally for us as we wanted it to be finishing in fifth, but I am hoping that in Kenya maybe we will not lose so much time opening the road and we can try to have a good weekend,” he added.

Neuville fared worse than his title rival on the famous savannah dirt tracks last year and is desperate to finish the job he started having led the event for all but two stages before retiring on the final leg’s opener. The Hyundai driver clipped a large rock and smashed the right-rear damper on his i20 WRC.

“We left feeling disappointed as we were clearly in the lead and could have easily won the rally if it had not been for a small issue,” said the Belgian, who is still chasing his first victory of the current campaign.

“It is a rough event where you need to find a good balance between pushing hard and knowing when to take it slower. The weather can also play a big factor. But I feel comfortable on the stages and this year we’re out for revenge. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”

Seemingly rejuvenated after his dominant victory on Rally Italia Sardegna earlier this month, Neuville’s team-mate Ott Tanak punched in the third best time, although it was 1.8 seconds down on Rovanpera. For the Estonian, the mantra in the next few days is very much, ‘To finish first, first you must finish’. At the end of his opening run, he said: “It is Safari-spec this year. Definitely, the target is to get through it.”

Sebastien Loeb was the top M-Sport Ford driver in fourth, four tenths up on reigning Safari Rally Kenya champion Sebastien Ogier. The latter admitted pre-event it was the fans that convinced him to get back behind the wheel of his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 for the third time in 2022. “I think itis mainly for the people that I came here. It’s an experience and I feel the passion that they have for rally,” he said.

Ogier's Toyota team-mate Takamoto Katsuta – a podium finisher at the event 12 months ago – was sixth in the final Rally1 standings and was followed by Gus Greensmith (M-Sport Ford), Elfyn Evans (Toyota) and Adrien Fourmaux (M-Sport Ford). Event debutant Craig Breen rounded out the top 10 and, as ever, the excitement was writ large across the Irishman’s face. “Hakuna Matata!” said the M-Sport Ford pilot.

“I am looking forward to it – it is a proper adventure and like nothing I have ever seen before. I have watched the Safari for years and always wondered when we would get the chance to do it – and here we are.”

In all, 19 timed tests make up the itinerary for this week's Safari Rally Kenya, the first of which is a Super Special that goes live tomorrow lunchtime at 12.08pm UK time.