Neuville damages car and lead on Safari’s Sunday opener

The top three have closed up as the leader damaged his car and Katsuta went for the wrong tires


Thierry Neuville’s Safari Rally Kenya lead has been obliterated by a rear-right suspension issue, while Takamoto Katsuta has been reeled in by Sébastien Ogier who lurks just 4.6 seconds behind.

Neuville has been in a class of one for large proportions of the rally, building up a 57.4s advantage over Katsuta after 13 of the 18 stages.

But Sunday’s first test, SS14, proved disastrous for the Hyundai driver. Exiting a square-left bend, Neuville’s i20 Coupe WRC visibly slowed and there appeared to be an issue at the rear-right.

Stage-end cameras showed that corner of his Hyundai sitting worryingly low, indicating that there was some kind of problem with the rear-right damping or suspension.

Neuville elected not to talk to stage-end reporters, but his lead – now trimmed to just 11.7s – looks under serious threat.

DirtFish was quickly on the scene to to inspect the damage.

“It must have been broken before, it’s not possible. You can see many cracks,” he said, checking the broken corner of the car while on the phone to his engineers.


Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Ogier meanwhile vaulted up to third on Saturday’s dramatic final stage as Ott Tänak was severely waylaid by a fogged windshield.

The seven-time champion therefore sensed an opportunity to steal second from his Toyota stablemate Katsuta too, and had an ace card up his sleeves with Katsuta carrying just two soft tires aboard his Yaris WRC – far from ideal in the damp conditions of the morning.

Ogier said: “I had to push to try to fight for the second place. Was not a perfect stage, a little half-stall on one corner but we have to keep trying. Let’s see what speed Taka has.”

It turns out Taka didn’t have the speed of Ogier. He dropped 13.5s to him to have just 4.6s in hand with four stages left.

“SS16 is going to be really rough so anything can happen, so just trying to avoid getting damage,” he said, unfazed by his time loss.


Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

“Unfortunately I don’t have such good tire so need to stress about position or anything.”

Adrien Fourmaux marginally cut across some grass on a straight part of SS14 as he sought to find the optimum racing line. With 12s to make up on team-mate Gus Greensmith, the M-Sport driver was on a charge.

“I say to Renaud during the week this is a stage we can really push because it’s not a rough stage so we try to push in this one, but to be honest the goal is still the same: to make the end,” Fourmaux commented.

Fourmaux’s efforts halved his deficit to fifth-placed Greensmith – beating him by 6s – although his off-road antics are likely to be investigated by the stewards.

“I didn’t have any softs left, I’ve only got two so I’m immediately at a disadvantage when it’s damp and humid,” Greensmith explained. “I had no grip.”

Dani Sordo isn’t in a fight for position given his retirement on Friday, but the Hyundai driver has suffered a fraught start to the final day.


A fuel pressure irregularity meant he and Borja Rozada were 20 minutes late out of the service, incurring a 3m20s time penalty. But Sordo, who was supposed to start the stages first on the road, checked in 10 minutes earlier than he was then meant to and therefore collected a 10-minute penalty.

This was because he wanted to obtain information about the stages today to be able to feed that on to his two team-mates – as he had done yesterday.

“Obviously we are taking care of the tires to see if we can do anything in the powerstage or something, but everything is OK,” said Sordo.

SS14 times

1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) 7m37.1s
2 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +4.1s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +7.4s
4 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +10.1s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +12.3s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +13.5s

Leading positions after SS14

1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 2h53m40.9s
2 Katsuta/Barritt +11.7s
3 Ogier/Ingrassia +16.3s
4 Tänak/Järveoja +1m29.4s
5 Greensmith/Patterson +1m50.3s
6 Fourmaux/Jamoul +1m56.3s
7 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +10m26.7s
8 Onkar Rai/Drew Sturrock (Volkswagen) +26m13.1s
9 Karan Patel/Tauseef Khan (Ford) +29m01.9s
10 Carl Tundo/Timothy Jessop (Volkswagen) +33m22.2s