Rovanperä extends Safari lead after Hyundai struggles

Two Hyundai retirements helped the reigning world champion build a big lead


Kalle Rovanperä leads Safari Rally Kenya by almost a minute after Friday’s action, aided by the demise of two Hyundais from provisional podium positions.

As last car on the road and with the rain staying away, Toyota’s reigning world champion used his running order advantage to win all six stages and build a 56.9-second advantage.

Hyundai made a strong start, running one-two after Thursday’s opening superspecial in the Nairobi suburbs. But as Friday wore on all three i20 N Rally1s ended up in the wars.

First to hit trouble was Thierry Neuville; the championship leader picked up a rear-right puncture which damaged the damper and bodywork in SS3. He made it back to service and through the second loop of stages.

That wasn’t the case for either Esapekka Lappi or Ott Tänak – both retired from second place on successive afternoon tests.

Lappi’s car ground to a halt with a transmission fault on Loldia, then Tänak struck a rock in the middle of the road on Geothermal, which pitched him straight into a bank and broke his steering.

Lappi explained his retirement to DirtFish: “Our gearbox exploded. It’s some acceleration out of a junction or a tighter corner, it went to front-wheel drive and then we carried on maybe one kilometer with the front-wheel drive…and then I lost all the gears and couldn’t climb the hill anymore.

“We dropped the sump guard off and pieces were falling out. So it’s quite done.”

Those issues for Hyundai, allied to a speedier second loop, helped Elfyn Evans climb from sixth to second by Friday afternoon. The Toyota driver usurped team-mate Takamoto Katsuta on the second pass of Kedong – aided by Katsuta overshooting a junction.

Despite the strong position in the classification, Evans was left to rue his pace: “I’m pretty disappointed all in all,” he confessed. “It’s always difficult early on the road but still I feel the performance should have been a bit better.”

A podium is still within reach for Neuville. The lone remaining Hyundai ended the day in fourth place, 6.5s behind Katsuta: “Unfortunately, again a difficult day for Hyundai,” said Neuville, accurately summing up the day.


M-Sport was a distant third-fastest among the Rally1 teams – but still has a car in the top five anyway thanks to mistake-free days from Fourmaux and Munster

Adrien Fourmaux is in a comfortable fifth place, nearly 40s behind Neuville. Despite set-up tweaks at lunch which brought some improvement, he continued to struggle with his Ford Puma Rally1 bottoming out, affecting his top speed on the faster sections of stages.

“We’ve made the car better – but it’s also been frustrating,” was Fourmaux’s summary.

Grégoire Munster is sixth, almost two minutes behind his team-mate. The highlight of the Luxembourg driver’s day came on the second pass of Geothermal, where he was fourth-fastest, 9.7s off the pace and ahead of his team-mate.

Gus Greensmith has a lead of over three minutes in WRC2 despite suffering with illness all day, leaving him running on just “one percent,” energy during the afternoon pass.

Two punctures in two stages derailed Greensmith’s fellow Škoda driver Oliver Solberg on Friday morning. Kajetan Kajetanowicz also dropped more than a minute after his car ingested fesh-fesh on the first pass of Kedong. Issues for both contributed to Greensmith’s lead.

But that didn’t mean it was an easy day for the former M-Sport driver.

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Gus Greensmith soldiered on despite feeling unwell all day

“Phwoar,” exhaled Greensmith. “This afternoon has been the toughest afternoon I’ve ever had in rallying. I’m absolutely exhausted. I was trying to stand outside the car before; there’s nothing left. I need my bed – soon.”

A hugely frustrated Solberg smashed everyone on the second pass of Kedong, putting half a minute on Kajetanowicz to shrink the gap from second place to 14.5s and pass Nicolas Ciamin’s Hyundai ford third in the process.

Saturday brings the longest day of the event with 100 competitive miles planned, including two runs at the 22-mile Sleeping Warrior test.