Thierry Neuville leads Safari Rally Kenya after Friday morning’s opening loop but only by 5.1 seconds as Kalle Rovanperä hit back at him on SS4.
Hyundai’s Neuville held a 7.3s advantage ahead of SS4 after two stage wins from two across the morning – despite an overshoot on the previous test.
However Rovanperä, who had looked set to outpace Neuville on SS3 Kedong before dust swept into his cockpit, beat Neuville by 3.1s on Oserian to keep the pressure firmly applied.
“That’s a big surprise, it felt really bad for me,” he said when he discovered his time.
“The condition here was at least driveable now but it was a very tricky stage.”
Neuville did pick up two slow punctures on the stage but managed to secure the second-fastest time; 2.1s quicker than Takamoto Katsuta.
Ott Tänak was within 10s of the lead before SS4 but has mysteriously slipped to 26.2s behind now after setting a time 19.8s poorer than Rovanperä’s.
When it was put to him that he is consistently losing time to his team-mate Neuville, Tänak hinted that something might be amiss.
“Believe me this is the least of the worries!” he said.
His time loss, coupled to Katsuta’s pace, has closed the gap between the pair to 13.8s. Katsuta moved into fourth at the expense of Ogier who dropped over a minute-and-a-half on the stage and falls three places down the order to seventh as he nursed his oil-free rear-left shock absorber.
“I didn’t push because we got damage on the last stage, it seems to be [that] we fixed it,” said Katsuta.
“I’m very happy I survived this morning. Oh, I cannot find the word! Quite tough.”
M-Sport’s Gus Greensmith is now fifth overall with Ogier going backwards, but he also appeared to be carrying a similar issue.
“We don’t have any damping on the left-rear it seems, so just managing in there,” he said.
He was fifth fastest, 25.1s slower than Katsuta to lie almost a minute overall behind the Toyota junior.
M-Sport team-mate Adrien Fourmaux was a strong fourth fastest on Oserian despite a massive cut appearing on the sidewall of his rear-left tire. That stage time moved him to just 8.5s behind Greensmith in the rally.
“I want to keep my pace for all the weekend and we’ll see our position at the end,” Fourmaux said, sensibly.
“All the punishment you give to the car you’re going to get this all weekend.”
Lorenzo Bertelli has become another casualty of the Safari as he failed to start SS4 due to a water leak that caused the engine in his Ford Fiesta WRC to overheat, taking him out of eighth place.
1 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) 12m39.3s
2 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +3.1s
3 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +5.2s
4 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +13.4s
5 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +19.8s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +30.3s
Leading positions after SS4
1 Neuville/Wydaeghe 42m48.9s
2 Rovanperä/Halttunen +5.1s
3 Tänak/Järveoja +26.2s
4 Katsuta/Barritt +40.0s
5 Greensmith/Patterson +1m36.4s
6 Fourmaux/Jamoul +1m44.9s
7 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +2m11.9s
8 Onkar Rai/Drew Sturrock (Volkswagen) +6m23.7s
9 Martin Prokop/Zdenek Jurka (Ford) +6m38.9s
10 Daniel Chwist/Kamil Heller (Ford) +8m51.2s