For the first time in a generation, the World Rally Championship landed in Africa last weekend for Safari Rally Kenya.
Any fears that the event had lost any of its character in the 19 years since it was last featured in the WRC were firmly put to bed as early as the first stage, and the magic just kept on going throughout the rally’s four days.
Sébastien Ogier was the man that mastered the challenge to take his fourth win of the season already, ahead of Takamoto Katsuta – on the podium for the very first time – and Ott Tänak.
Here are Colin Clark’s driver ratings from Safari Rally Kenya 2021.
Toyota Gazoo Racing
Sébastien Ogier 9/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 1st
Yet another masterclass from the WRC’s greatest of all time – well in my opinion anyway. The winner of this rally was always going to need a strategic, intelligent approach and Ogier was, from the very start, the man best suited to deliver the win here. Used all of his experience and laudable patience to nurse the car through the opening loop of stages after an uncharacteristic mistake on SS3 damaged his rear suspension.
From two minutes down he waited patiently for his opportunity which came with the rain on SS13. Clearly benefited from Neuville’s sad demise but not much to fault at all about Ogier’s drive to victory. He’s now done something that his compatriot Séb Loeb never achieved and adds the Safari Rally winners trophy to his burgeoning collection.
Elfyn Evans 4/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 10th
At the very time the Welshman needed a result to keep the pressure on what’s looking more and more like a one-man contest in the title race, Evans got a bit too greedy on SS3 and smashed the front right of his Yaris WRC into a rock the size of a beach ball. The golden rule here seems to be if you don’t know what’s hidden in the grass or cuts, just don’t go there!
This was a classic case of European rallying mentality just not suiting the challenges of Africa. Hitting the apex every time is all well and good but not when it hides a rock that will always win in the smash and grab stakes. Will learn from this and come back better prepared next year.
Kalle Rovanperä 7/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 6th
Three disappointing rallies in a row became four disappointing rallies in a row in Kenya. You had to feel for the young Finn though when, after a strong run through the majority of Friday’s stages, he got stuck in the notorious African fesh-fesh on SS7.
Other drivers got through so you really have to put this down to inexperience although it did look as though Rovanperä was running a lower ride height than his rivals. So maybe not entirely his fault. Second on the powerstage was a confidence boosting way to leave Africa and head to one of his favorite events – Rally Estonia.
Takamoto Katsuta 9/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 2nd
Didn’t really put a wheel wrong all week and thoroughly deserved his first WRC podium. Much like Ogier, Taka-san had a game plan and he stuck to it with admirable discipline and patience. Progress this year has been sensational and the likes of Esapekka Lappi and others who are looking at the third manufacturer seat at Toyota next year will be worried.
Katsuta is making things really quite easy for team boss Jari-Matti Latvala and looks more and more like a full factory driver each time we see him.
Thierry Neuville 9/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: DNF
Goodness me you have to feel for Thierry. Absolutely sensational pace and performance for the majority of the event meant that he had the best part of a minute’s lead heading into the final day. What should have been a leisurely Sunday drive to victory turned into anything but when the luckless Neuville’s rear right suspension collapsed after hitting an innocuous bump on SS14.
What you might have put down to bad luck is quite apparently becoming a bit of a crisis for the Korean manufacturer. Sort out the somewhat delicate and infuriatingly fragile suspension or wave goodbye to any hopes of championship success.
Ott Tänak 6/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 3rd
A massively underwhelming weekend from Ott that was perhaps salvaged by the powerstage win and his first podium since February. But if we’re being honest, podiums and powerstage wins are not what Tänak is all about. He needs to be right up there pushing for wins and it’s just not happening right now.
We’ll remember Tänak’s efforts here probably for that mid-stage stop to clear a fogging windshield and his subsequent barbed comments about the quality of his car. But that will only disguise a drive that lacked confidence in his machinery, performance, pace and commitment.
Dani Sordo 5/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 12th
We’re still not absolutely certain how Sordo’s suspension broke on SS3 but a betting man would say it was far from Sordo’s fault. His frustration in the immediate aftermath suggested something broke – there was little evidence of the contrition of a driver who’s just made a rally ending mistake.
Dani was somewhat subdued for the remainder of the event but did his job and brought the car home to score those all important manufacturer points.
Oliver Solberg 1/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: DNF
This event couldn’t really have gone much worse fro young Solberg. Smashed his suspension during shakedown and then drove his car to destruction on SS3 after a meeting with a bank on the previous stage.
Oliver only has to look to Ogier to work out how to nurse a broken car through the roughest of stages and back to service. The learning from this event will be massive for the talented youngster and he’ll return next year with a different mind set that hopefully delivers a different result.
Gus Greensmith 8/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 4th
Yet another impressive performance from Greensmith that showed bags of discipline and intelligence. The M-Sport boys had a plan and they stuck to it rigidly. A good run of consistent, reliable drives gives him a great base to push forward from and I expect to see some strong competitive pace from the Englishman next time out in Estonia.
Adrien Fourmaux 8/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 5th
The chatter around this young man just gets louder and louder the more we see of him in WRC machinery. His performance here belied his lack of rallying experience and he showed remarkable rally craft to combine top-level pace with patient discipline that delivered a fantastic result and his first WRC stage win.
Malcolm Wilson still has obvious problems in finding a number one for next season but young Fourmaux is increasingly looking like a legitimate challenger for that seat.
Lorenzo Bertelli 5/10
Safari Rally Kenya result: 11th
A mistake-free weekend that came with obvious joy at being back in the WRC – and in particular back in Africa – was good to see from the eminently likeable Italian. Lorenzo knows where he’s at in terms of pace and drives accordingly. Bertelli brings a bit of Italian style, energy and enthusiasm on his all too infrequent outings to the WRC that I for one always enjoy.
A special mention to…
Jean Todt 8/10
I don’t think there’s any question that without Todt’s drive and determination, the WRC would not have returned to Africa. He enjoyed some of his most memorable successes as a competitor and as a team boss on this gruelling event and clearly was determined to see it reinstated on the WRC calendar. He was also acutely aware of the need for rallying’s top level to be a truly global championship and he persevered when others said it wasn’t going to happen in pushing the Safari’s cause.
By the way, I’d have happily given El President top marks but had to recognize his persistent lack of mask wearing around the service park and deduct a couple of points accordingly. Come on president Todt, these are your rules and no one should be above them. Even our Queen Elizabeth wears a mask when the rules say so. Lead by example and don’t give me any more reasons to deduct well earned and well deserved points!
Kenyan rally fans 10/10
I happily reserve my only maximum score of the Safari Rally to our many new friends in Kenya. It’s what I loved most about the Safari Rally. The fans embraced the WRC in their tens of thousands with smiles, laughs, absolute joy and enthusiasm.
Do you agree with Colin’s ratings, or feel he’s wide of the mark? Let us know in the comments