Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier wins returning FIA WRC Safari Rally from privateer’s Takamoto Katsuta and Hyundai’s Ott Tanak.
As the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) returned to Africa for the first time in 19 years, the series leader was 0.3sec faster than Toyota Yaris team-mate Kalle Rovanperä in the curtain-raising 4.84km Super Special Kasarani on the edge of the capital.
Elfyn Evans completed a Toyota Gazoo Racing clean sweep of the top three, the Welshman a further 0.4sec back. Ogier and Ott Tanak went head-to-head in the final frontline heat around the sweeping curves and jumps of the purpose-built track in front of an excited large crowd. Kicking up huge plumes of dust, Ogier beat the Hyundai i20 driver by 2.5sec.
Rovanpera, whose father, Harri, twice finished second on the gruelling Safari, was a clear winner over Hyundai’s Dani Sordo. Evans came out on top against Thierry Neuville, who conceded a few seconds after running his i20 wide. Tanak’s pace was good enough to secure fourth, with Neuville 5.0sec off the pace in fifth and Takamoto Katsuta completing the top six. The Japanese driver was a further 0.6sec back, despite a briefly stalling his Yaris’ engine.
Thierry Neuville led the survivors of WRC Safari Rally Kenya’s vicious opening leg that destroyed the hopes of virtually half the top-flight drivers on Friday. The Belgian won three of the six punishing and sandy speed tests on the shores of the Great Rift Valley’s Lake Naivasha to lead Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta by 18.8sec, despite limping through the final test with two punctures and an engine problem.
Kenya’s FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) return after a 19-year absence showed Africa’s feared loose surface roads had lost none of their punishing power. Neuville won two of this morning’s three stages in his Hyundai i20 to lead Kalle Rovanpera by 5.1sec. The Finn briefly snatched top spot in the afternoon’s opener, but his hopes were wrecked when his Toyota Yaris became trapped in deep dust in the final Oserian stage.
The car was towed off the track into retirement, allowing Neuville to open clear air over Katsuta. Katsuta lost time when he stalled his engine, but the Japanese driver soared from fourth to second in the closing stage after Rovanpera’s demise and a puncture for Ott Tänak, which cost the Estonian almost a minute.
Tanak, in third and trailing Katsuta by 37.0sec, claimed he had driven at no more than 60 per cent pace in his i20 and ‘even that was too much in some places’. Championship leader Sebastien Ogier was 1min 49.4sec off the lead in fourth after a broken oil canister in his Yaris’ rear suspension slowed his morning progress.
Ford Fiesta twins Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux completed the top six. Greensmith broke an anti-roll bar but their cautious approach paid dividends as they avoided the carnage that befell their rivals. Second in the championship Elfyn Evans retired 300 metres from the end of the Kedong stage (SS3) when he clipped a rock and broke the front right suspension on his Yaris.
Dani Sordo went out in the same test when a stone smashed a suspension arm on his i20. His car oversteered sideways off the stage and ploughed through the vegetation before coming to rest in a ditch. Oliver Solberg struggled with damaged rear right suspension from the off and eventually called it a day after Kedong with a damaged roll cage adding to his troubles.
Lorenzo Bertelli completed the tale of woe when his Fiesta stopped with a coolant leak. Rovanpera was seventh ahead of WRC3 leader Onker Rai in eighth, with Daniel Chwist and Karan Patel completing the leaderboard.
Thierry Neuville stretched his WRC Safari Rally Kenya lead to almost a minute on Saturday after a tense finale to the penultimate leg. On a day when the African classic appeared to be showing its more benign side after Friday’s brutal opening leg, Neuville increased his advantage over Takamoto Katsuta to 57.4sec.
He has led this sixth round of the season for most of the way in a Hyundai i20. After winning the first of six fast and smooth speed tests around Lake Elmenteita today, he was happy to measure his pace and keep a watchful eye on those behind. But a sudden downpour in the closing 31.04km Sleeping Warrior caused chaos.
The dry and dusty roads quickly turned to mud and the hard compound tyres carried by all offered minimal grip in conditions akin to ice. Neuville fared well in comparison to Katsuta, who skated off the road and conceded more than 20sec to his rival. Katsuta is fighting for his first WRC podium in a Toyota Yaris and came under increasing pressure from Ott Tanak.
The Japanese pilot watched his 37.0sec advantage at the start of the day whittled down by the persistent Estonian. But it all went wrong for Tänak in Sleeping Warrior. Caught in the storm, his Hyundai i20’s windscreen misted up and he stopped to wipe it clear. He dropped more than a minute to Katsuta and instead of challenging for second, Tanak found himself relegated to fourth.
WRC Championship leader Sebastien Ogier was in recovery mode after Friday’s suspension troubles. The Frenchman won three stages but his biggest break came in the final stage. He steered a cautious path in the rain to climb to third, just 18.1sec behind Katsuta. Ford Fiesta duo Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux consolidated fifth and sixth. Fourmaux survived a spectacular two-wheeled moment in the penultimate test while Greensmith was another to slide off in the rain. They were split by 12.0sec.
Kalle Rovanpera was a lonely seventh in his Yaris. The Finn was more than eight minutes adrift of Fourmaux and nearly 15 minutes clear of WRC3 leader Onkar Rai. Fellow support category drivers Karan Patel and Carl Tundo completed the leaderboard. Toyota’s Elfyn Evans and Hyundai’s Dani Sordo climbed the order after retiring on Friday. They are 12th and 13th, Sordo winning the last stage after a dry run before the rain arrived.
Sebastien Ogier snatched an unlikely victory at Safari Rally Kenya on Sunday afternoon after longtime leader Thierry Neuville’s dreams were shattered alongside his car’s suspension. When Neuville retired his Hyundai i20 in Sunday’s opening speed test after hitting a rock and smashing the right rear damper, the Frenchman was perfectly placed to capitalise.
He demoted Toyota Yaris team-mate Takamoto Katsuta in the penultimate stage to win the punishing four-day African classic by 21.8sec on its return to the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) after a 19-year absence. Ogier clawed his way up the order from seventh after suffering suspension troubles of his own on Friday. His fourth win in six rounds extended the seven-time champion’s lead to 34 points at the season midpoint.
The Safari lived up to its reputation as one of the world’s iconic motorsport events. Rocky and sandy gravel tracks around Lakes Naivasha and Elmenteita in the Great Rift Valley provided a brutal test, while stunning scenery, exotic wildlife and enthusiastic locals portrayed Africa at its best. Neuville had led for all but two stages until his premature demise, the third rally in succession that Hyundai had retired from the lead with suspension troubles.
Japan’s Katsuta maintained his constant improvement to claim his first WRC podium in second to seal Toyota Gazoo Racing’s fourth 1-2 result of the season, widening its manufacturers’ championship lead to 59 points. Aside from a couple of engine stalls, Katsuta was exemplary throughout. He ended 47.7sec clear of Ott Tanak, who was closing in until a faulty windscreen heater in Saturday’s final rain-lashed stage forced him to stop and clean the misted glass with his hand.
M-Sport Ford twins Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith claimed fourth and fifth in their Fiestas. Their risk-free strategy paid dividends and Frenchman Fourmaux celebrated his maiden top-level stage win on Sunday morning. They were split by 9.9sec after Fourmaux demoted his colleague two stages from the end.
Kalle Rovanper was almost nine minutes adrift in sixth in his Yaris, after receiving a hefty time penalty when his car ground to a halt in deep sand on Friday and he retired. WRC3 leader Onkar Rai was seventh, ahead of fellow support category drivers Karan Patel and Carl Tundo. Elfyn Evans scrambled a point in 10th after parking his Yaris on Friday morning with broken suspension.
Here’s the results: https://www.wrc.com/en/wrcplus/live-timing/
Here’s how WRC Rally Italia Sardegna panned out
[Note: Due to time shortage and multiple championships during the weekend, we are forced to share the report from WRC press release of each day’s running]