Safari Rally Kenya didn’t disappoint. It was full of challenges, testing drivers to their absolute limit and it inevitably ended in chaos for some at times too.
There weren’t many drivers that emerged unscathed from the event, but who matched expectations and who faltered? DirtFish staff writer Alasdair Lindsay has delivered his verdicts.
Kalle Rovanperä 9/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 1st
We’re running out of superlatives for Rovanperä now. Four wins in his last five rallies. And this one was a masterful performance – oddly enough helped by his extra-curricular activities in drifting.
There was luck, sure. On Friday, it appeared to help Kalle that he was running first on the road, not hinder him. Each car going through the rutted fesh-fesh sand holes punished the later runners harder.
The biggest luck, of course, was the very first corner of the rally. He came oh-so-close to rolling his Yaris completely on a superspecial. As his team principal Jari-Matti Latvala knows from painful experience in Poland 13 years ago, there is no worse place to crash. And Rovanperä came pretty close.
But that run on Elmenteita – that was something else. In Formula 1, they say the best drivers show their true colors in wet, slippery conditions, like Ayrton Senna bagging that second place at Monaco in an unfancied Toleman. Or Sebastian Vettel’s underdog triumph in a Toro Rosso at Monza.
That’s what this was. Minus the underdog bit, of course. None of this is a surprise anymore.
Why 9/10? You either need to score a perfect 30 or massively outperform your equipment to get a 10 in my opinion. Kalle didn’t do that here. But from Friday onwards he did everything right and sacrificed powerstage points to keep the boss’ stress levels low. After all, Latvala had been part of a formation finish gone wrong at the last moment before – he wouldn’t want to open old wounds by risking it happening again.
Elfyn Evans 8/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 2nd
It’s tricky to know what to make of Evans’ outing in Kenya. In principle he didn’t really put a foot wrong. There were a couple of debeaded tires cropping up that cost him a few seconds here and there but that’s ultimately part and parcel of the Safari Rally. It’s tough.
On Saturday morning it appeared a battle for the lead was in the realms of possibility but Rovanperä simply outdrove him on the second pass of Elmenteita – then a double whammy came along when his windshield washers malfunctioned in the mud-bath of Sleeping Warrior and he could hardly see.
By then the chance of challenging Rovanperä for a win on pure pace was gone. All that was left was heed the words of Latvala and ensure he played his part in securing a Toyota top-four lockout. No risks could be taken. He did what was asked of him and did it well.
But at the key moment when the lead battle hung in the balance, it was Rovanperä who clocked the crucial stage time, not Evans. It’s the third time this year he’s been in a head-to-head battle with his team-mate and lost – the tide needs to turn very soon if he wants to avoid Rovanperä–Toyota being the new Ogier–Volkswagen.
Takamoto Katsuta 8/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 3rd
Katsuta understood the assignment from minute one.
“It’s not a performance rally – it’s a proper challenge. With these cars it will be some challenge,” was the comment from Katsuta at the end of the superspecial that nearly caught Rovanperä napping.
This is Katsuta-san’s safe haven. A refreshing tonic for when things aren’t going quite right and he needs a slurp of confidence from the waters of Lake Naivasha to get his groove back. And he found it.
Narrowly missing out on a podium in Portugal to Dani Sordo looked painful. He was beating himself up for not being good enough – something team boss Latvala was quick to dismiss as complete nonsense. He was doing plenty well enough.
He needed this podium. And he took the sensible approach to get it.
When running second, 8.6s behind his eight-time world champion team-mate after the second pass of Geothermal, it could have been tempting to try and make a statement. But instead he was sensible and didn’t get carried away, keeping the car in one piece at all costs.
There was a pacenote mixup that left him confused on Soysambu, but that aside he did the right things at the right time. When his gearbox started leaking oil Sunday’s first stage, he backed right off and made sure he wouldn’t be the one to ruin Toyota’s stunning 1-2-3-4 formation finish.
Sébastien Ogier 9/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 4th
The reigning world champion lost 2m08.6s on the second pass of Kedong, where he had to stop and change a puncture.
That was undoubtedly the wise choice given what had happened to Gus Greensmith on Friday, where he tried to solider on only to destroy the bodywork on the Ford Puma and set the right-rear wheel assembly on fire, costing him 13 minutes instead of two.
Ogier finished fourth. The gap to Rovanperä out front? 2m10.3s. What a battle we could have had. The Jedi master up against his young Padawan, battling on even terms.
He’d done everything right on Friday right up until that puncture on Kedong and, such was the reliability of the other three Toyotas and their better luck with tires going soft, there was no window for last year’s Safari winner to recoup the lost positions. He deserved more than he got.
Thierry Neuville 9/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 5th
Neuville and Rovanperä’s rallies couldn’t have been more different – one running smoothly, quickly and with consistency; the other wrestling a car that refused to work properly and eventually ended up getting planted into a tree.
Yet both are still 1-2 in the drivers’ championship.Hyundai’s longest-serving driver keeps having rallies this year that, on paper, look like absolute train wrecks. That he salvaged 15 points out of this one, in addition to his Croatia podium, is a bit of a miracle.
It was a familiar script for the five-time championship runner-up on Friday. An air filter problem left him down on both power and patience – not that he had much coming into the Safari Rally, given Hyundai’s reliability record.
Then came a sequence of mad events late on Saturday. His alternator failed; he repaired it. His car stalled twice on Sleeping Warrior; he got it going again. But he didn’t get very far, smacking the i20 N Rally1 nose-first into a tree.
It didn’t even matter in the grand scheme of things. He’d lost so much time with the stalling issue that the podium was already long gone before that tree came into view. At that exact moment, there was no point being careful – getting a 10-minute super rally penalty was hardly going to be worse than the stoppages he’d already faced.
It’s clear that Neuville is pretty much in the form of his life right now – but yet again his own car was the biggest obstacle to success.
Oliver Solberg 6/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 10th
Solberg came here to get experience. He did that. And by virtue of actually getting to the finishing line in one piece, without having to revert to super rally, he contributed to Hyundai’s manufacturers’ championship points tally.
Alas, he didn’t do a whole lot else. But this was mostly due to his car being a dumpster fire on wheels – something always seemed to be broken on his Hyundai, even more so than his team-mates. That he was one of only two Rally1 drivers not in a Toyota to finish without resorting to super rally shows he stuck to the script given by his team to follow.
In truth this was bordering on a 5/10 performance – but I’m giving him an extra point for showing Adrien Fourmaux how you’re supposed to deal with hobbling through a stage without holding someone up. When his i20 had one of its regular low-power struggles, he crawled up a hill, parked at the summit and waited patiently for WRC2 leader Kajetan Kajetanowicz to come by, all while marshalling the Maasai spectators to stay back. Very nice.
Ott Tänak 7/10
Safari Rally result: DNF
His gear shifter snapping out of its mounting on the very first full-length stage was a foreshadowing of just how issue-stricken his Safari would be. The best glimpse we have of Tänak’s real performance was the chase that ensued after he bolted a wheel brace into the vacant mounting point of his broken shifter, where he steadily ascended from 11th to 4th.
When Sébastien Loeb fell by the wayside, Tänak was left behind as the main bastion of Toyota resistance – only for his propshaft to decide it wanted to start a campfire under the floor of his Hyundai.
When his car actually bothered to work properly he was never more than 0.5s/km off the leading pace. Had he hit that number across the whole rally, he’d only have managed fifth overall – but given Toyota’s dominance, he probably couldn’t have hoped for much better on raw pace alone.
He returned on Sunday with full focus on the powerstage, saving tires then blitzing the ‘practice’ run of Hell’s Gate before the bonus points would be on offer on the next pass. Power-steering failure killed that ambition.
Unlike Neuville, who was rather unequivocal about his lack of patience for the i20’s constant misgivings, Tänak was at least cracking jokes about the absurdity of his situation at the time. That automatic gearbox may have to wait for a future set of regulations, though.
Craig Breen 5/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 6th
Breen spent much of the rally existing without a clear goal or purpose. He’d started out in the battle for best-of-the-rest honors against Hyundai early on but after a steering failure put him out on the now-infamous Kedong stage, he was shown how hard Safari bites back for the first time.
This, again, was a rally he’d not done before and had no experience on. So it was as much about learning and hoping for better next year than anything else. But it’s a bit hard to learn when you’re having to engage tortoise mode for two straight days, as Breen had to on Saturday and Sunday. Given all the other works Pumas ran into trouble and retired on Saturday, it was understandable that he backed off massively.
It seemed the car under him was no match for the Yaris in terms of reliability – and in Safari of all places, that’s game over before you’ve even started. That he couldn’t risk going fast on the powerstage, while all three of his factory team-mates scored bonus points, showed how problematic his car had been.
It’s hard to know what to make of his rally. He’s probably just glad it’s over and the Estonia-Finland doubleheader is up next. Being Hyundai’s go-to third driver on fast gravel in recent years will at least give him a better starting point and a chance to go fast rather than tip-toeing through fesh-fesh and deep mud.
Sébastien Loeb 8/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 8th
Yet again we saw the nine-time world champion is one of the fastest drivers in the championship. Even after he got lost in his own dust on the first pass of Kedong and ended up 26 seconds off the pace, the job he’d done up until that point was sufficient to ensure he was fifth, 16.9s off the top spot.
Then of course came the dreaded O-ring failure, which set the wiring at the back of his engine bay on fire. That shot any chance of a podium against the ultra-reliable Toyotas even if a canny drive followed.
On Saturday he struggled a little when the stages were dry as first car on the road, then the car had a suspension problem on the second pass of Sleeping Warrior. But on Sunday, a normal road position restored, he was the fastest driver out there. Though he couldn’t fend off Neuville on the powerstage, the Hyundai hell-bent on getting those five bonus points, Loeb was still only 0.8s off the top spot.
Ultimately nothing that went wrong was his fault – unlike Portugal. And the speed was there.
Adrien Fourmaux 4/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 15th
A rear-differential failure spoiled hopes of a confidence-boosting strong result, falling to 16th when returning from super rally. There were no mistakes on the first day but he cracked the top five stage times only once and on Kedong, when both Tänak and Loeb got lost in their own dust, he was only faster than drivers whose cars either broke down or caught fire.
Then there was Soysambu on Saturday morning. A self-inflicted retirement this time. An impact broke the left-rear suspension, then he committed the heinous crime of holding up his own team-mate as he limped to the stage finish, only to retire in the following road section. Breen was diplomatic and even empathetic, having kicked up dust in front of Katsuta the day before. But you just don’t do that – it’s your team-mate!
He found some decent pace on Sunday but with the Toyotas in cruise control by then, it’s hard to know how good his raw pace really was.
Gus Greensmith 1/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 16th
It’s hard to remember given how the rest of his rally unfolded but Greensmith had a really strong start to the Safari, putting in a strong time on Loldia and running as high as fourth.
Then he made a decision that was fatal to his chances of a strong result: when he picked up a puncture, he pressed on, ripping the right-rear corner of the Ford Puma to shreds and ultimately setting the car on fire. It wasn’t a big fire, yes. But fire is not good. Stuff isn’t supposed to be on fire. Stopping to change, as Ogier would do on the second past, would have lost him two minutes. Instead, Greensmith lost 13.
Then Soysambu struck again for M-Sport, this time Greensmith sinking into the ruts of a tight corner and rolling it onto his side. He was not helped by marshals refusing to let spectators near the car – something an FIA investigation concluded was incorrect – which would have helped him roll it back onto its wheels and keep going. But ultimately he ruined the engine cooling with that roll anyway, so getting going sooner wouldn’t have made a difference.
On a rally where pure speed comes second to smart, careful driving, this was an opportunity for Greensmith to excel. Instead, he was the only driver to be fully responsible for his rally going to pot. He was the only M-Sport driver not to suffer an unavoidable technical failure and yet finished as the last Puma running, even behind Fourmaux, who’d had to retire twice instead of just the once.
A huge missed opportunity.
Jourdan Serderidis 6/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 7th
Serderidis is not a professional rally driver – this is his hobby. He came to Safari to experience one of the world’s toughest rallies, in the best class of rally car money can buy.
That he got from start to end by covering every single mile, without hitting major trouble and retiring, shows he respected the challenge.
Consider this: had Serderidis been eligible to score points for M-Sport in the manufacturers’ championship, he would have done. He was the second Ford Puma to the finish.
Yes, all four factory cars retired at various points. But that’s the whole point of the Safari Rally. Even in its shortened modern-day iteration, it is still a test of endurance and reliability – both of car and driver. Greensmith and Fourmaux were behind him because of their own mistakes, not like Loeb where the car had let him down.
He’s here for fun, of course – and he certainly had that. But getting from start to finish on the Safari with only a control arm breaking is a big achievement in itself.