FORMER WORLD RALLY CHAMPION TAKES EARLY SAFARI RALLY LEAD

Stig Blomqvist claims lead after opening leg of East African Safari Rally

1984 World Rally Champion Stig Blomqvist, co-driven by Venezuelan Ana Goni, has taken the early lead in the 2005 East African Safari Rally, one of the world's most historic events. Hot on his heels is the winner of the 2003 event Rob Collinge, while London city insurance broker John Lloyd holds third position after five competitive sections in this marathon event that takes in more than 1,600 kilometres of competition.

The East African Safari Rally - first held in 1953 - started yesterday afternoon when the 46 registered crews crossed the ramp beneath the famous elephant tusks on Moi Avenue in Mombasa. This morning, however, the action took off in earnest as the crews left Mombasa for the opening five sections and 263.25 competitive kilometres in a total distance of 537.52 kilometres. An early morning start saw the crews head directly south, immediately leaving Kenya for Tanzania where the day's action was centred, before the overnight halt in Dar es Salaam. Searing temperatures typically characterised the day as the crews powered over fast and flowing stages.

Blomqvist, who finished third on the Safari Rally in 1989 in a VW Golf, has taken the early lead in a Historic Motorsport-run Ford Escort RS1600. The Swede won just one of today's competitive sections (CS4), but was never outside the top three during the day. He takes the overnight lead by just over two minutes. "It's been a good day for us, no dramas at all and it's great to be leading at this early stage," he said.

Rob Collinge, who won the 50th anniversary event in 2003, takes second position in a Datsun 260Z after claiming two section victories (CS3 and CS5). Collinge suffered a puncture in the opening section but has fought back after losing time. John Lloyd, who was also one of the leading contenders in the 2003 East African Safari Rally before dramatically crashing his Escort, holds third in a Tuthill Porsche 911. "I'm gob-smacked!" said Lloyd. "It's extra-ordinary, but to be honest Kankkunen and Duncan are quicker but just need to get some time back. We've had an unblemished day, but it was very fast everywhere."

Behind the leading trio, French businessman Frederic Dor - this year co-driven by Paul Howarth, Team Manager of the Subaru World Rally Team - holds fourth position in another Tuthill Porsche, while Belgium's Gerard Marcy - who led the event after the second leg in 2003 - holds fifth. Australian, Graham Alexander, in another Datsun 260Z, rounds off the top six.

Some of the leading crews hit problems early in the day. Four times FIA World Rally Champion Juha Kankkunen suffered with fuel pump problems in the first three stages and despite changing the component before the start of CS4, the three time Safari Rally winner dropped 45 minutes and overnights in 34th position. Bjorn Waldegård, another veteran of the Safari Rally who also has three wins under his belt, lost time with an engine problem and overnights in 11th. Ian Duncan, who won the Safari when it was a round of the FIA World Rally Championship in 1994, suffered with electrical problems in the opening section and he holds 15th overnight, despite winning a section (CS2).

Casualties of the day include Andrew Barnes, who finished fourth in the 2003 East African Safari Rally. The Porsche 911 driver dramatically rolled in CS2 and was forced to retire. Both he and co-driver Calvin Cooledge were shaken but uninjured. Alexander Hack also went off in exactly the same place, he and David Lawrence-Brown also escaping injury after setting fastest time in the opening section in their Ford Escort.

The second day of the East African Safari Rally keeps the crews in Tanzania for another five competitive sections over 286.22 competitive kilometres - the longest leg of the event. The route takes the crews north from Dar es Salaam, initially into the Pugu Hills, before heading to the infamous Usumbara Mountains, where there is an average of one corner per 75 metres. Crews then overnight in the Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge, 20 kilometres before Arusha and in the foothills of the snow-topped Mount Kilimanjaro.

DRIVER QUOTES - LEG 1

Ian Duncan/Amaar Slatch - EAK/EAK - Ford Escort RS
"The coil gave up in the first section, so we lost a load of time."

Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo - FIN/FIN - Datsun 240Z
"We had fuel pump problems from the start of CS1 and had to keep dropping into first and second gears. The service crew changed it before CS4 but we were 45 minutes late. It was an interesting stage and the first one where the car worked properly! The roads are good and the Safari is always about living with the car and keeping it in one piece."

Bjorn Waldegard/David Cavanagh - S/RI - Porsche 911
"The engine stopped and it was 10 minutes before we found that the relayer had jumped out; I'm not so used to the Porsche at the moment so it took a while to sort. But it's been a great day and I'm happy the organisers have made the roads so smooth. It felt very nostalgic at the start of the first section, especially when we stopped to sort out problems! It was just like a typical Safari, but maybe the problems started a bit too early for us this time!"

Frederic Dor/Paul Howarth - CH/GB - Porsche 911
"This is my first rally since this event in 2003 and I've been learning to drive the car again; we've been steady enough on the stages with no problems."

Gerard Marcy/Alain Lopes - B/B - Ford Escort RS
"We've been taking it steady today, just to get into the rhythm."

Iain Freestone/Preston Ayres - GB/GB - Ford Escort RS1600
"We had a fuel leak in the first section, but sorted the problem and the rest of the day has been fine."

John Lloyd/Paul Amandini - GB/GB - Porsche 911
"I thought we had an overheating problem in the first stage, but apparently that's how the Porsche's run."

Andrew Barnes/Calvin Cooledge - GB/GB - Porsche 911
The crew rolled their brand new 911 in CS2 and were forced into retirement. Both crew members were uninjured.

Anthony Ward/Ievan Thomas - GB/GB - Ford Escort
"The stages have been quick but we're just taking it steady at the moment."

Richard Gower/Aled Davis- GB/GB - Ford Escort
"We got caught in dust this morning and have also been a bit down on power. The stages are the business though!"

James Ingleby/Mike Bowen - GB/GB - Rover
"The car only got out of customs yesterday lunchtime, so we're really still working on it. We lost the fan during CS4 and the car was totally full of dust."

Josef Pointinger/Peter Hall - A/GB - Ford Escort
"Today's stages have been very high speed, which isn't so great for us. It's my first time as a navigator in 40 years and the first time I have co-driven on special stages. We've been cruising round today but we don't have enough power for these stages."

Jurgen Bertl/Jiri Kotek - D/CZ - Porsche 911
"We got held up for 10 kilometres in CS2 and lost a lot of time, but otherwise things have been okay. It's certainly not like any modern rally!"

Gaby Gaudezeune/Filip de Pelsemaeker - B/B - Opel Manta
The crew rolled in CS5 but are okay.

Albert Michiels/Patrick de Coninck - B/B - Porsche 911
"We've had a very good day and ran at a good speed. The car and the organisation have been perfect and it's my birthday, so things couldn't be much better at the moment!"

Marc Devis/Dan Erculisse - B/B - Porsche 911
"We had a problem with the starter motor and then the heater was on for the whole of CS4, which was interesting.! The stages are good, but you always have to be careful."

Roddy Sachs/Clive Gardiner - ZA/ZA - Alfa Romeo 2000
"We had a broken shock absorber in CS2 and had to crawl through the stage. CS4 scared the hell out of me it was so fast; fifth gear for 10 minutes! It's the first rally for Clive and he doesn't really know whether this is normal or not!"

Larry Horn/Rob Barbour - EAT/EAT - Datsun 260Z
"We had a good run for most of the morning but then had an electrical problem at the start of CS5, which was the fastest of the day."

Jonathan Savage/Quentin Savage - EAK/EAK - Datsun 260Z
"The car's been fantastic but we're taking it easy at the moment. The roads have been good but it's my first time on the event. I've done a lot of one-day rallies in Kenya, but never the Safari. It's also the first time my son has been in a rally car, let alone navigated! It's been good fun so far."

-www.eastafricansafarirally.com