Chaos reigns behind Safari leader Rovanperä

Reigning champion Kalle Rovanperä somehow avoided dramas that befell the rest of the field


There was only one constant on Safari Rally Kenya’s penultimate day: Kalle Rovanperä led from start to finish. Everything else was up in the air, with the podium places rotating heavily throughout the day as drama befell the majority of drivers.

Thierry Neuville looked to have inherited a golden opportunity by midday service on Saturday, after both Takamoto Katsuta and Elfyn Evans suffered punctures in the morning promoting the Belgian to an unexpected second.

But Neuville day quickly fell to pieces soon into the afternoon, his car crawling to a stop several times on Soysambu with a fuel system problem. More than once across the afternoon Neuville had to complete sections of stage in EV mode; in all he lost over 10 minutes and fell to a very distant fifth place. As a further distraction, he had an alarm sounding through the cockpit of his i20 N Rally1.

Katsuta sits second overnight behind reigning world champion and Toyota team-mate Rovanperä, but the gap is a sizeable 2m08.9s, partially a consequence of a puncture the Japanese sustained on Saturday morning but also down to Katsuta’s deliberately cautious approach.

No amount of caution was able to prevent Katsuta suffering some technical woes of his own late in the day, however. “We had to come out of stage mode but I’m very happy to be through the stage,” he said at the finish line of Sleeping Warrior.


Takamoto Katsuta sits second after a solid day

Adrien Fourmaux has an advantage of over two minutes in the final podium position. Like Katsuta, he’d chosen to be deliberately careful throughout the day – but still came a cropper on the final test, picking up a front-left puncture that shredded the bodywork on his Ford Puma.

“It’s our first issue since the beginning of the rally, so statistically it’s quite OK,” said Fourmaux. “Inside there was a rock so I got a slow puncture. I tried to manage it but at one point the tire just exploded.

“It’s still some good points for today,” he pointed out. Indeed, he banked 13 points subject to finishing the rally on Sunday under the new-for-2024 points system, with Rovanperä picking up the maximum of 18 for being first to the finish on Saturday.

A nightmare day for Evans was rounded out by a deflation that he had to stop and change on Sleeping Warrior – his fourth of the day – that left him 2m22.3s adrift of the podium places.

The attrition rate has been substantial enough that with all his fuel system woes Neuville is still in a comfortable fifth place. Grégoire Munster retired first thing on Saturday after he broke the rear-left corner of his Ford Puma Rally1 after hitting a rock, while Neuville’s Hyundai team-mates faced plenty of strife even after returning through superally.

Ott Tänak indicated his Hyundai was blighted with issues since the day began: an intercom failure, dust ingress to the cockpit due to a faulty window plus other technical gremlins he wouldn’t explain further held him back.

“The morning was some different small things, which actually in the end were going to be quite important to get sorted, otherwise it would have been difficult to get on the stage. Some things were definitely a bit more tricky. This afternoon as well, we were overheating quite badly, so we had to manage the temperatures.”

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Esapekka Lappi suffered a smashed windshield in the final stage of Saturday

Meanwhile Esapekka Lappi suffered a double bird strike on the final stage. The first one weakened the windscreen and the second shattered it entirely, leaving him unable to see and crouching awkwardly to peer through what little of the windscreen was still visible.

“Some glass in the eyes but OK,” reported Lappi. “On one straight we hit a big bird. Then later on we hit a second bird. The tension of the screen was already gone so now it’s really broken.”


Oliver Solberg has been on a charge, but Gus Greensmith still leads WRC2

Gus Greensmith, who leads WRC2 and holds sixth overall, had been unwell since Friday but indicated he was finally turning a corner: “I’m feeling better now,” he said, “Today was easy [compared to yesterday], it was a walk in the park!”

A determined Oliver Solberg, second in WRC2, is running out of time to catch Greensmith; during Saturday the gap was cut from three and a half minutes to under two – but with only 46 stage miles left, he’s likely to run out of time to catch the leader.

Kajetan Kajetanowicz, winner of the WRC2 class at Safari Rally Kenya for the last two years, rounds out the podium places, over four minutes adrift of Solberg.