Takamoto Katsuta leads a round of the World Rally Championship for the first time in his career but only has 0.8 seconds in hand over Sébastien Ogier on Safari Rally Kenya.
Thierry Neuville had been leading the way but retired after Sunday morning’s first stage when the rear-right damper failed on his Hyundai.
The final couple of miles of the next stage, Hell’s Gate, were cut from SS15 due to damage to the road that was sustained on the pre-event recce. The powerstage, which is held on this stage later, will however run at full length.
The reduced mileage almost caught out Dani Sordo who seemed to forget the flying finish was now earlier on the stage. Sordo, running 12th overall, will now score points for Hyundai in the manufacturers’ race due to Neuville’s retirement.
The big shake-up is at the top of the leaderboard though, as the absence of the #11 Hyundai has released Katsuta and Ogier into a fight for victory.
Katsuta holds position for now, but the writing appears to be on the wall as Ogier stole 3.8s from him on SS15 to lurk just 0.8s adrift.
“That was the plan today to try to fight for second,” Ogier said. “Now that Thierry’s out it’s a fight for the victory.”
New leader Katsuta added: “It’s a surprise but it’s nothing. Still three stages and you see this morning already anything can happen. I must focus not to damage the car.”
Hyundai’s Ott Tänak rounds out the podium places but is over a minute behind the two leading Toyotas.
“It’s not good,” he insisted, dismayed at his team-mate’s retirement.
Neuville’s exit has promoted the two M-Sport cars into fourth and fifth overall, and it’s Gus Greensmith that’s ahead – but only by 5.9s as he lost 0.1s to Adrien Fourmaux on SS15.
“It’s hard to put into words this rally. One minute it’s fine, the next minute it’s going end-over-end. Metaphorically…” said Greensmith.
Kalle Rovanperä completes the top six in his Toyota as he continues to conserve his car to reach the final time control.
Team-mate Elfyn Evans is now 7s away from scoring a world championship point though, chasing down Lorenzo Bertelli’s Ford Fiesta WRC for 10th. Evans actually ended up as the stage winner too despite being the first car on the road – but that road position may have been an advantage on the fine, sandy surface.
Seventh to ninth places are occupied by the leading WRC3 crews. Onkar Rai leads the category and is therefore seventh overall in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, ahead of Karan Patel and five-time Safari winner Carl Tundo.
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 3m14.3s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +1.0s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +1.6s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +5.4s
5 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +5.9s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +6.0s
Leading positions after SS15
1 Katsuta/Barritt 2h57m12.3s
2 Ogier/Ingrassia +0.8s
3 Tänak/Järveoja +1m13.3s
4 Greensmith/Patterson +1m39.2s
5 Fourmaux/Jamoul +1m45.1s
6 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +10m16.9s
7 Onkar Rai/Drew Sturrock (Volkswagen) +26m29.8s
8 Karan Patel/Tauseef Khan (Ford) +29m25.6s
9 Carl Tundo/Timothy Jessop (Volkswagen) +33m53.0s
10 Lorenzo Bertelli/Simone Scattolin (M-Sport Ford) +48m57.2s