Kalle Rovanperä has dumped erstwhile Safari Rally Kenya leader Elfyn Evans out of the podium positions as Sébastien Ogier narrowly extended his advantage over Takamoto Katsuta.
Geothermal – the shortest and smoothest stage of the loop – was won by Rovanperä the first time around but the Sweden, Croatia and Portugal winner was beaten by both Ogier and Katsuta on the repeat pass.
Ogier, who defeated Katsuta to win the Safari Rally last year, bested the Toyota Next Generation driver by 0.4 seconds on SS6 to extend his lead to 8.6s.
“When you are in the lead you cannot expect more than that, but it’s very early in the weekend and the next one is a big challenge,” Ogier said, referring to the mammoth Kedong stage up next.
“We saw what happened this morning.”
Katsuta though is oozing confidence and is feeling at one with his GR Yaris Rally1, remarking there were “no risks, no moments so it’s quite comfortable”.
Rovanperä dropped 2.1s to Katsuta to trail by 4.3s overall, but he did move ahead of team-mate Evans.
Evans was only sixth fastest on Geothermal 2, falling 1.3s behind Rovanperä and now 14.2s adrift of Ogier’s rally lead.
Behind the Toyota 1-2-3-4, Ott Tänak is best of the rest in fifth spot, heading Craig Breen by 4.4s having beaten his M-Sport rival by 4.3s on SS6.
Breen admitted he was finding it “difficult to balance what’s fast and what’s not, but given everything that’s happening a couple of seconds isn’t going to make much difference.”
Thierry Neuville trimmed his deficit to Breen to just under the half-minute mark, but the Hyundai driver remains “not happy at all” with his i20 N Rally1.
“I’m not happy at all, I’m fighting hard to be honest to at least get some good times,” he said.
Oliver Solberg has cut a frustrated figure all day on Friday, upset by the feeling in his Hyundai, but the 20-year-old put in a stronger time on SS6.
“This stage was much less rough – so much more enjoyable,” said Solberg. “We still need to improve the car but I did something now and it’s a bit better.”
Gus Greensmith is still well outside the top 10, and the M-Sport driver is focusing on just making the finish after both team-mates Sébastien Loeb and Adrien Fourmaux retired.
He explained: “We’re aware of the issues Adrien had so we need to make sure this car makes it back to service.”