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July 13, 2024
WRC Safari Rally: Ogier holds off Rovanpera to claim victory in tense finish

The eight-time world champion and co-driver Vincent Landais came under pressure from championship leader Rovanpera across Sunday’s final six stages to clinch his third win of a partial 2023 WRC campaign by 6.7s. The margin was the closest in the event’s 70-year history.

Ogier produced a faultless drive on Kenya’s challenging, rough gravel stages, assuming the rally lead from M-Sport’s Ott Tanak on Friday’s morning first test, with road opener Rovanpera in second.

The Frenchman enjoyed a near perfect Friday, winning four of the six stages, helped by an inspired call to take only one spare, instead of two, that lightened his GR Yaris. A lack of hybrid at the end of the morning loop was his only issue.

Ogier then stamped his authority on the event, extending this lead over Rovanpera to 32.0s, despite suffering a puncture, before the much anticipated rain caused chaos during Saturday’s final stage.

Rovanpera halved the deficit to 16.7s after a masterful display in extremely treacherous conditions as the Finn won the stage, while Ogier lost time to a double front puncture.

Although happy to bag strong championship points by finishing second, Rovanpera continued to push on Sunday, reducing the gap to 8.1s, before Ogier responded by winning stage 15, despite losing his rear wing and tailgate after clipping a tree.

The gap continued to fluctuate until 9.2s separated the pair ahead of the final stage, but Ogier clung on, despite a rock damaging his car, to seal victory. Rovanpera could only the muster the third fastest time on the powerstage due to a lack of power from his car, but extended his championship lead to 38 points.

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta finished third and fourth to mirror the 1-2-3-4 Toyota scored at the event last year.

The journey for Evans and Katsuta was far from simple. Evans remained in touch with the lead two occupying third until Saturday morning when the Welshman dropped more than a minute on stage eight after his GR Yaris took on too much water in a water splash and stalled. After losing more time to a puncture, Evans also escaped a couple of scares that damaged his rear wing, before coming home in third, 2m58.5s, adrift.

Katsuta also endured an eventful rally that began with the Japanese driver rolling his GR Yaris in Wednesday’s shakedown. A broken lower suspension arm, a run in with a zebra and a clash with a tree left his car significantly damaged on Friday. But two stages wins across a much smoother Saturday and Sunday, albeit hampered by a leaking radiator on the final stage, helped him to fourth, 3m23.8s behind.

Toyota’s dominance was contrasted by reliability issues and misfortune for Hyundai and M-Sport Ford.

Dani Sordo led Hyundai’s charge to finish fifth (+5m05.4s) although his rally wasn’t helped when he became lost in his own dust on Friday prior to a power steering issue that struck on Sunday.

However, Sordo was the only i20 N to complete the 355.92 kilometres. Thierry Neuville’s championship charge was dealt a blow when he retired from fourth on Friday due to broken front-left suspension. The Belgian rejoined the rally and recovered to finish eighth and claim the five bonus points for winning the powerstage.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Tomek Kaliński

Team-mate Esapekka Lappi starred at times on his Kenya debut following a double prop shaft failure that prevented him from logging time in shakedown. Lappi, who also sustained a puncture, inherited third after Evans’ stall, but a third prop shaft failure forced him into retirement on Saturday. The Finn rejoined the event on Sunday but encountered another mechanical issue.

M-Sport’s rally started brightly with Tanak winning Thursday’s Nairobi superspecial by 0.1s from Ogier. However, his rally unrivalled on Friday when he was delayed by a pig and a group of zebra, before a puncture cost the Estonian more than two minutes, having already been struggling with his Ford Puma’s handling.

Unable to challenge the leading group Tanak recovered to sixth (+9m14.4s) ahead of team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet, who lost time to a power problem, two punctures and handling issues.

The top 10 was completed by leading WRC2 runners Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Oliver Solberg.

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