Top driver eager for Safari challenge as Ogier leads Loeb in battle for Monaco glory

M-Sport Ford driver Gus Greensmith just can’t wait to make a return to the WRC Safari Rally in June.

Lying seventh after Saturday’s penultimate day of action in the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally here and challenging for a good finish when the rally concludes on Sunday, the Briton says the Safari Rally and Rally Portugal served up the best experiences for him last season.

And that’s why he’s looking forward to travelling to Kenya again for the June 23-26 Safari.

Meanwhile, the Monte Carlo Rally goes down to the wire on Sunday with Toyota’s defending world champion Sebastien Ogier enjoying a 21.1-second lead over challenger and fellow legend Sebastien Loeb of M-Sport Ford.

There will be four final stages on Sunday covering a total of 67.26 kilometres.

These will basically be two stages (the 19.37-kilometre La Penne-Collongues and 14.26-kilometre Brianconnet-Entrevaux) run twice, with the ceremonial finish planned for 4pm local time (6pm Kenyan time) outside the iconic, 156-year-old Monte Carlo Casino which has played host to the shooting of several films, including James Bond’s “Never Say Never Again,” “GoldenEye” and “Casino Royale.”

Eight-time world champion Ogier will certainly not be gambling on his 21.1-second lead over Loeb – winner of nine world titles, 79 WRC rally wins and 119 podiums – going into Sunday’s final day after outwitting his countryman in a game of tyre choice in Saturday’s final stage, a tricky, icy 20.79-kilometre drive from Saint-Geniez to Thoard in south-eastern France at which Ogier outdid Loeb by 16.1 seconds.

Both drivers tackled the stage on soft tyres, Ogier revealing that when he saw Loeb stick to the softs, he decided to follow suit.

“I was planning to go with the snow tyres to be honest because it was the safest option but I saw that Séb was going for slicks so I quickly changed last minute just before the start, just to do the same,” Loeb disclosed.

And at the end of Saturday’s action, Greensmith, driving one of the M-Sport Ford’s four Pumas, had moved up from an overnight seventh to fifth, some six minutes, 33.8 seconds off Ogier’s pace as the Ford Pumas took the battle to the top Toyotas of Ogier and the day’s final stage winner and fourth overall Kalle Rovanpera.

In an exclusive interview with Nation Sport in Monaco, Greensmith said he just won’t forget the Safari Rally’s Sleeping Warrior stage which was run on the penultimate day of last year’s rally.

Anwar Sidi, one of the route planners for the World Rally Championship Safari Rally, described the Sleeping Warrior stage as one of “the most scenic and yet most challenging.”

“Located near the shores of Lake Elmentaita, within Soysambu Conservancy, is a group of hills, prominently known and named by their resemblance,” Anwar explains.

The Automan & Shipmarc-sponsored Kailesh Chauhan’s Viking Motorsports Ford Escort in action with the Sleeping Warrior Mountain as the backdrop during the 2021 Equator Rally. British World Rally Championship driver Gus Greensmith describes the Sleeping Warrior Stage as his most challenging stage ever and looks forward to returning to the WRC Safari Rally in June. /Anwar Sidi | Nation Media Group

“The Sleeping Warrior Hill resembles a man lying down on his back.

“Some locals believe that it is the bust of the late, great Maasai warrior, Oloibon, while others believe that it is Lord Delamere, a late, prominent landowner in the area.

“The hills and the lake are surrounded by beautiful marshland vegetation, home to buffalo and over 400 species of birds, such as marabou storks, flamingos, crested grebes, pelicans, and kingfishers.

“This makes Sleeping Warrior the most photographic hills in Africa,” adds Anwar, also Kenya’s most experienced motorsports photographer.

But despite it’s beauty, the Sleeping Warrior stage was among the most challenging at last year’s Safari.

Greensmith, navigated by Swede Jonas Andersson, said he’s getting familiar with the new Hybrid Rally1 cars that blend a 1.6-litre petrol engine and a 100 kilowatt battery, which are making their World Rally Championship debut here.

“It’s got a big, big kick compared to the old cars, it’s incredibly fast and in some places it can get really fast,” the Manchester-born 25-year-old driver, whose career best was the fourth-place finish at last year’s WRC Safari Rally, said.

Greensmith had just four days in total to test the M-Sport Ford Puma Hybrid, pre-Monte Carlo, almost a third the time his teammates Adrien Fourmax and Craig Breen enjoyed in the tests.

“Which makes my performance today even more impressive, and I’m very, very happy that these guys have created an absolutely fantastic car,” he noted.

The Ford driver described the WRC Safari Rally as his best rally last season.

“Last year it was by far the favourite rally that we went to… It was an absolute adventure,” he reminisced.

“I still remember the last stage of the Saturday (Sleeping Warrior), the really long one where we had rain… it was the least amount of grip I’ve ever had anywhere… It was insane. The Safari Rally and Portugal are the two I most look forward to this year.

Greensmith added that he would like to spend more time in Kenya after the Safari Rally, an opportunity he didn’t have last year.

“Last year we had to go back (immediately after the rally) because Kenya was on the (Covid-19) red list with the UK whereas this time it’s not, so the plan is to stay.

A message for his fans in Kenya?

“Thank you so much for all the support. I’m very much looking forward to going back to Kenya.

“Kenya was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had in my life, so I’m looking forward to bringing the new hybrid cars to Kenya.”

Leading positions at the Monte Carlo Rally on Saturday after 13 of the rally’s 17 stages:

1. Ogier/Veillas (Toyota) Two hours, 19 minutes and 43 seconds;

2. Loeb/Galmiche (M-Sport Ford) +21.1 second behind;

3. Breen/Nagle (M-Sport Ford) One minute, 26.0 seconds behind;

4. Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +2:03.8;

5. Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +6:33.8;

6. Thierry Neuville/Martijn Waydaeghe (Hyundai) +7:44.1;

7. Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) +9:37.2;

8. Erik Cais/Petr Tesínský (M-Sport F0rd) +9:59.6;

9. Gregoire Munster/Louis Louka (Hyundai) +10:44.1;

10. Yohan Rossel/Benjamin Boulloud (Citroën) +11:14.2.

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