Rovanpera leads Toyota 1-2-3 on the WRC Safari Rally after Friday’s attack

By | March 30, 2024

Kalle Rovanpera (above) dominated the opening leg of the WRC Safari Rally Kenya on Friday, building a 56.9 second lead on a near-perfect day for the Toyota Gazoo Racing factory team.

The two-time and reigning WRC champion is recharging his batteries by competing in a limited FIA World Rally Championship in 2024, but was untouchable in his second start of the season as he and co-driver Jonne Halttunen posted the fastest times at all six races . Friday’s rough, rock-strewn gravel stages around Lake Naivasha.

Rovanpera’s teammates, Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta, made it a GR Yaris Rally1 1-2-3, with the Japanese brand taking advantage of what became a disastrous afternoon for WRC rivals Hyundai Motorsport after two of its three factory heroes, Esapekka Lappi and Ott Tanak, were forced to retire.

Lappi, winner last time out on the snow and ice of Sweden, was the closest challenger to fellow Finn Rovanpera at mid-day, but a transmission failure saw his i20 N Rally1 car fail on the first stage after service, Loldia 2 , was put aside. second until his similar machine stopped in the next test, Geothermal 2, with a broken steering gear after hitting a rock.

Evans and Katsuta were on hand to pick up the pieces and complete Toyota’s provisional podium elimination. The duo split by just 3.9 seconds after Evans pulled ahead on the final stage of the day, the 31.57-mile Kedong 2.

Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta (above) was second for much of Friday, but lost the spot to teammate Elfyn Evans in the final test.

“I have to be happy with that,” Rovanpera said at the end of the stage. “Certainly on the last one the conditions were quite tough, and I think for every car [the ruts] become somewhat deeper locally. I didn’t take any chances and went around all the stones to try to keep the car intact. I would have liked to go even faster, but for now this is okay!”

WRC points leader Thierry Neuville became Hyundai’s only remaining hope after the deaths of Lappi and Tanak, although the Belgian himself ran into trouble with a tire failure on the second stage of the day. The swinging Pirelli rubber punched a hole in the bodywork of his Hyundai, forcing the Belgian and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe to don goggles and dust masks for the morning’s final stage.

On a more positive afternoon, Neuville moved closer to a podium finish in fourth place. He was only beaten by Rovanpera in Kedong 2 and is just 6.5 seconds behind Katsuta heading into Saturday’s penultimate stage.

Fourth-placed Thierry Neuville (above) is Hyundai’s only bullet in the gun after a tough day for his teammates.

M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux struggled in some of the rougher sections with his Puma Rally1 surfing the skid plate, but he managed well to remain fifth after a relatively clean day. The Frenchman finished the stage almost two minutes behind the lead, with teammate Gregoire Munster – competing in his first Safari in Rally1 machine – a similar distance behind him.

In WRC2, the second level of international rallying, Gus Greensmith led by more than three minutes despite suffering flu-like symptoms all Friday.

While WRC2 competitors chose up to seven events to score points on, Skoda Fabia RS driver Greensmith waited until the third round of Kenya to start his 2024 campaign. Despite feeling less than 100 percent, things couldn’t have gone much better for the Brit. .

After building a small lead early on Friday morning, things were made a little easier for Greensmith when his nearest challenger, Oliver Solberg in a similar Fabia RS, stopped to change a wheel on the second stage of the day.

With Solberg dropping back and the rest of the field not posing much of a threat, Greensmith could afford to manage his level of risk on the rough African stages. After ending the day with a 3:23.0 second lead over second-placed Kajetan Kajetanicz’s Skoda, he was simply looking forward to getting some rest.

“This afternoon was the toughest afternoon I’ve ever had in rallying,” said Greensmith. “I’m absolutely exhausted. I need a bed – and soon!”

Gus Greensmith suffered from flu-like symptoms, but still built a significant WRC2 lead in his Skoda.

The second of three stages on Saturday is the longest day of the rally and includes six stages with a total of 100 competitive miles. First up is the 30.22 kilometer Soysambu test, followed by the 15.37 kilometer Elementeita and the iconic 36.42 kilometer Sleeping Warrior stage. All three are repeated in the afternoon loop.

WRC Safari Rally Kenya, positions after stage one, SS7
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 1h16m22.6s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +56.9s
3 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m00.8s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m07.3s
5 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Puma Rally1) +1m46.6s
6 Gregoire Munster/Louis Louka (Ford Puma Rally1) +3m34.2s
7 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Anedrsson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2 leader) +6m51.3s
8 Jordan Serderidis/Frederic Miclotte (Ford Puma Rally1) +9m11.7s
9 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +10m14.3s
10 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +10m28.8s

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The story originally appeared on Racer

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