Kalle Rovanpera wins FIA WRC Safari Rally in a Toyota 1-2-3-4, with Elfyn Evans in second and Takamoto Katsuta.
Kalle Rovanpera capitalised on team-mate Sebastien Ogier’s late misfortune to lead after Safari Rally Kenya’s vicious opening leg on Friday. Championship leader Rovanperä languished in 11th overall on Thursday evening after puncturing a tyre on the curtain-raising super special stage, but was immediately into the podium fight on Friday’s sandy speed tests on the shores of the Great Rift Valley’s Lake Naivasha.
Car-breaking roads and thick fesh-fesh sand punished crews as more than half of the FIA World Rally Championship field suffered some form of drama during the day, but Toyota Gazoo Racing’s GR Yaris cars performed well under the pressure. Defending Kenya winner Ogier picked up where he had left off on Thursday and led for the majority of the six stages. He was briefly overtaken by team-mate Elfyn Evans in the morning, but moved back in front in the afternoon’s opener when the Welshman suffered a soft rear tyre.
Rovanpera lingered inside the leading trio and managed to bag three stage wins before seizing the top spot late in the day when his colleague stopped to change a wheel during the Kedong finale. The Finn was pleased to be carrying a 22.4sec buffer into Saturday’s monster leg despite being on road-opening duties.
Evans remained Rovanperä’s nearest challenger, but he found it difficult to judge exactly how hard to push and what risks to take. He ended just 2.9sec clear of third-placed Ott Tanak, who denied Toyota an overnight podium lockout. Tanak started on the back foot when the gear lever of his Hyundai i20 N snapped during the first stage. Thanks to some quick-thinking, the Estonian carried out a makeshift repair, using the car’s spare wheel brace as a temporary shifter before going on to claim a brace of top-three times.
Takamoto Katsuta was demoted from second to fourth overall in the final stage. The Toyota youngster dropped time whilst passing a stricken Craig Breen – who retired his M-Sport Ford Puma with front right suspension damage – and eventually ended 1.3sec down on Tanak. Second in the championship Thierry Neuville also had a troublesome day with his Hyundai. The car briefly lost power after scooping up a cloud of dust on SS4, with Neuville also complaining of traction and drivability issues. He trailed the frontrunners by almost one-minute, ahead of Ogier, who was 1min 10.7sec further back.
Last year, Ogier clawed back a similar deficit to take victory after breaking a suspension damper on Friday. Anything is still possible, although the Frenchman appeared to be visibly dejected back at the Naivasha service park. Oliver Solberg brought his i20 home in seventh overall, followed by Skoda Fabia Rally2 driver and WRC2 leader Kajetan Kajetanowicz. Breen was ninth despite incurring a 10-minute penalty for failing to complete SS7 and Sean Johnston rounded off the leaderboard in a WRC2-specification Citroen C3.
Gus Greensmith was the only M-Sport Ford championship contender to finish the day, but he was almost 15 minutes off the pace after stopping to make stage-side repairs on Kedong 1. Sebastien Loeb’s Puma stopped with engine troubles on the way back to midday service and Adrien Fourmaux’s similar car also bowed out with a transmission-related failure.
Kalle Rovanpera stretched his Safari Rally Kenya lead to more than half a minute on Saturday afternoon as wet weather conditions spiced up the penultimate leg. On a day which troubled more of the FIA World Rally Championship’s leading drivers, Rovanperä overcame sickness worries to increase his advantage and headed a Toyota GR Yaris quartet in front of Elfyn Evans.
Championship leader Rovanperä seized the lead of this sixth round late on Friday when team-mate and early polesitter Sébastien Ogier stopped to change a wheel. He measured his pace over the morning and was happy to keep a watchful eye on those behind. The afternoon loop was a completely different story. Downpours in the final pair of stages caused chaos as the dry and dusty roads turned to mud, with grip levels comparable to ice.
Rovanpera fared well in the extreme conditions despite feeling under the weather himself. He outpaced the entire the field by 11.2sec at Elmenteita 2 before adding another 13.2sec to his lead in the Sleeping Warrior finale. The 21-year-old will start Sunday’s final leg a hefty 40.3sec clear at the top. Evans punctured on SS10 and was also lucky to survive a close call with a tree on the last stage.
The Welshman put the mishap down to poor visibility – the result of a broken windscreen washer motor – but ended 35.3sec clear of Takamoto Katsuta. Katsuta was slow out of the blocks and dropped out of the runners-up spot on the first stage at Soysambu. Two deflated tyres and a late overshoot were the only real bumps in the road for the Japanese driver and he remains on target to claim a second consecutive Kenya podium.
Katsuta’s place in the leading trio was made possible by Thierry Neuville’s demise on SS13. The Hyundai driver grabbed a brace of early stage wins, but lost time when his i20 N was slow to restart following a stall. His day ended just 1km later following a shunt with a tree. Neuville’s retirement added insult to injury for his Hyundai Motorsport squad, with Estonian driver Ott Tänak also sidelined by propshaft failure earlier in the day.
Such was the rate of attrition, Neuville will start Sunday in fifth overall despite incurring a 10min penalty for failing to finish the final stage. Eight-time world champion Ogier was aided by the drama unfolding ahead and brought his Yaris home 1min 22.7sec adrift of the podium in fourth overall, while Oliver Solberg completed the top six. The Hyundai youngster incurred 1min 30sec in time penalties after making roadside repairs to his car’s suspension and trailed the leaders by over 12 minutes at close of play.
Craig Breen nursed a rear suspension issue but remained M-Sport Ford’s leading driver in seventh overall. His Puma team was left depleted by retirements, with Gus Greensmith halted by accident damage caused by a roll and Adrien Fourmaux succumbing to broken suspension. Puma privateer Jourdan Serderidis was eighth, followed by Kajetan Kajetanowicz’s WRC2-leading Skoda Fabia Rally2. Friday retiree Sébastien Loeb climbed to 10th despite breaking a steering arm on his Ford.
Kalle Rovanpera boosted his FIA World Rally Championship title hopes with a dominant victory at Safari Rally Kenya on Sunday afternoon. The 21-year-old continued his run of irresistible form to chalk up win number four of the season on a dream week for his Toyota Gazoo Racing squad, which locked out the top four places for the first time in 29 years.
Rovanpera never expected to win this rally. He arrived in Kenya with a commanding points lead and played down his glory hopes, instead starting with the mindset that any points from the championship’s roughest encounter would be a bonus. But the Finn’s ‘bring it home’ mindset soon went out of the window on Friday afternoon when he seized top spot from GR Yaris team-mate Sebastien Ogier, who stopped to change a wheel in the final test.
Despite feeling unwell, Rovanpera strengthened his position on Saturday and thrived in waterlogged conditions as downpours derailed many of his rivals’ hopes. The sizeable 40.3sec margin he carried into Sunday’s finale was extended further by another two fastest times and the youngster ended the bruising four-day fixture 52.8sec clear of Elfyn Evans to head up the Yaris quartet.
He now leads the championship by 65 points with seven rounds remaining, while Toyota extended its manufacturers’ series lead by 62 points. Welshman Evans combated his troubled result last time out in Sardinia with a relatively drama-free drive. A puncture on SS10 was a minor scare, while a non-functional windscreen washer also led to some hairy moments during Saturday’s mudbath.
He finished 49.9sec ahead of Takamoto Katsuta, who sealed back-to-back Safari podiums after finishing runner-up last year. The Japanese driver kept a keen eye on his mirrors with Ogier behind and ended 27.6sec ahead of the eight-time world champion. Ogier – winner of last year’s Safari – had mixed emotions at the end of the rally. Friday’s tyre trouble put him out of contention and he conceded more time on Saturday when the car’s engine ingested some of Africa’s famous fesh-fesh sand.
The hotly-anticipated battle with compatriot Sebastien Loeb never materialised either, as the nine-time world champion retired his M-Sport Ford Puma with engine woes on Friday. Nevertheless, Ogier was pleased to bring home more solid points for Toyota during his part-time campaign. The last time the team occupied all top four positions was in Kenya in 1993.
Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville was over 10 minutes behind in fifth overall despite incurring a 10min penalty when he crashed into a tree and failed to finish Saturday’s Sleeping Warrior finale. It was a weekend to forget for the Korean manufacturer, with Estonian Ott Tanak’s i20 N also sidelined by a broken propshaft on the penultimate leg and retiring for a second time with power steering failure on Sunday. Both drivers held onto second and third in the championship and Neuville collected five bonus points for winning the Wolf Power Stage.
Craig Breen restarted after his early bath on Friday and ended as M-Sport Ford’s leading driver in sixth overall despite nursing suspension problems. The British squad also endured a tough outing with Gus Greensmith rolling out of contention on SS8 and Adrien Fourmaux succumbing to suspension issues soon afterwards.
Breen gained a position when Oliver Solberg stopped in the middle of the road with an air filter full of dust, causing the cancellation of Sunday’s opener. The young Swede eventually got going again but was plagued by a mechanical issue in the closing speed tests and dropped to 10th. Puma privateer Jourdan Serderidis steered clear of trouble to finish seventh overall followed by a recovering Loeb and Polish driver Kajetan Kajetanowicz, who secured an emphatic WRC2 victory.
Here’s WRC Safari Rally result: https://www.wrc.com/en/wrcplus/live-timing/
[Note: The above is as per press release with no edits made]