Safari Rally Kenya has claimed its first two victims as both Elfyn Evans and Dani Sordo retired from the event on Friday’s second stage.
Evans was lying fourth overall heading into the Kedong stage, two seconds adrift of rally leader Thierry Neuville, but has parked up and retired within 0.2 miles of the stage-finish after hitting a large rock hidden in a bush on a right-hand bend.
The impact immediately broke something on the front-right of Evans’ Toyota, and while he tried to drag his Yaris to the end of the test he was forced to park the car off the road.
He jumped out to try and work on it, but his efforts look to be in vain. Co-driver Scott Martin was later seen pushing the rock he and Evans had hit further into the bush to prevent any of their rivals from making the same mistake.
Sordo, who was sixth overall after two stages, suffered a more dramatic exit.
Heading down one of Kedong’s long straight sections, the rear got away from Sordo and he headed into the stage-side bushes and slid off the road.
The Hyundai driver, who also retired from the previous round in Italy, was quickly out the car and was visibly frustrated by the incident.
All-in-all, SS3 proved to be a dramatic affair even for those who made it to the end; particularly for Toyota as Sébastien Ogier, Kalle Rovanperä and Takamoto Katsuta all ran into problems of a varying degree.
Ogier had a wild stage. First, he kissed the verge at speed at the start of the stage which momentarily put him off-line, and then he missed his braking point later on and suffered a half-spin.
The rear-left shock absorber on his Yaris then appeared to break as his car was visibly bucking around on the straight towards the end of the test.
Ogier elected not to give an end-of-stage interview but is understood to have performed road-side repairs after the stage. He lost 34.2s to stage winner and rally leader Neuville to trail by 36.4s.
Rovanperä was looking poised to become the new leader and was up on Neuville – who overshot the same square-right corner as Ogier – through the early splits by a sufficient margin to do so.
But Rovanperä’s splits then began to spiral as dust began to infiltrate the cockpit of his Toyota. It meant he lost 7.3s to Neuville instead of gaining time, to sit 8.2s behind overall.
The fourth Toyota of Katsuta got off lightly compared to his team-mates, surviving a scare and backing off when an alarm flashed on the dashboard.
“The condition is so bad and there is so big ruts all the time,” Rovanperä said.
“At the end of the stage I had a puncture now. There was so much dust in the car I couldn’t breathe, so it’s Safari for sure.”
Neuville added: “I was close to roll the car in the ruts a couple of times so I had to adapt the rhythm.
“I was really afraid I could put the tire off the rim, I think it’s possible to go faster but as we can see we need to survive.”
Ott Tänak sang a similar tune: “The only target was to not damage the car,” he admitted, after setting the third-quickest time to lurk 9.5s in arrears of the lead.
“It was already very demanding, second time [through] I think it will be unbelievable.”
Ogier is 26.9s behind Tänak with Katsuta now just 1.5s behind him, but the two Toyotas have half a minute in hand over M-Sport’s Gus Greensmith who described SS3 as “horrific”.
He added: “And that’s the first pass! I think quite early on we broke maybe the anti-roll bar at the back, so that wasn’t pleasant. We keep going.”
Greensmith was 33.8s quicker than team-mate Adrien Fourmaux who confessed he took it “really, really carefully” given all the drama befalling his rivals.
Oliver Solberg entered SS3 30 minutes late after working hard to fix the crabbing issue that he picked up on the previous test when he hit a bank. He didn’t set a competitive time due to the stage being red-flagged as Tejveer Rai crashed his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 16m52.3s
2 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +7.3s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +8.3s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +16.9s
5 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +34.2s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +39.6s
Leading positions after SS3
1 Neuville/Wydaeghe 30m06.5s
2 Rovanperä/Halttunen +8.2s
3 Tänak/Järveoja +9.5s
4 Ogier/Ingrassia +36.4s
5 Katsuta/Barritt +37.9s
6 Greensmith/Patterson +1m09.2s
7 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +1m34.6s
8 Lorenzo Bertelli/Simone Scattolin (M-Sport Ford) +3m19.1s
9 Onkar Rai/Drew Sturrock (Volkswagen) +4m24.2s
10 Carl Tundo/Timothy Jessop (Volkswagen) +4m34.4s