Rovanperä takes dominant Safari Rally victory

Toyota's part-time world champion delivered as rivals continually faced problems


Kalle Rovanperä scored an imperious victory on Safari Rally Kenya, running away at the front as his World Rally Championship rivals repeatedly ran into trouble on the infamously tough event.

There was no stopping the reigning world champion: he took the lead first thing on Friday morning and went on to win every stage that day, building a comfortable advantage over the chasing pack which he then carefully managed to the finish.

Behind the rally winner, a rapidly rotating cast of drivers came and went from the podium positions across the four-day event.

Those who joined Rovanperä on the podium had made a point to take a safety-first approach to the rally, prioritizing finishing over maximum speed.

Second place for Takamoto Katsuta was a welcome bounce back after a disastrous Rally Sweden, in which he’d crashed out of the fight for the lead. He’d made a point to bring the car home in one piece and was rewarded; his only dramas were a single puncture on each of the last two days.

Adrien Fourmaux clinched a second podium finish in as many WRC rounds; only a front-left puncture on Saturday’s final stage, Sleeping Warrior, stopped him from achieving an unblemished record. Set-up issues had compromised his speed early in the rally, exacerbated by having his pre-event test on the unrepresentative roads of M-Sport’s Greystoke test site rather than Kenya as the other factory teams had done.

Fourth place is all Elfyn Evans could muster. He was affected by punctures more than any other driver, picking up four of them on Saturday. But he also lacked the pace of his direct rivals, indicating he didn’t feel comfortable with his car in the early running.

Come Sunday, Evans was shocked by how hard his rivals were willing to push to score Sunday points; he was only third-fastest on Sunday and bested by all three Hyundai drivers on the powerstage.

Sunday morning’s Malewa test served as an unfortunate reality check for the two-time championship runner up: “I thought it would be better too but clearly the other guys don’t care about their car or the tires,” he said.

2024KENYA_FD_ 260
I take a drink now; hopefully something else than water [in my bottle]. Esapekka Lappi

Hyundai suffered numerous reliability issues on an event that has traditionally been its weak point. Of the three i20 N Rally1s, Thierry Neuville was the first home in fifth place, a result he will be disappointed with considering his underlying pace during the rally.

Neuville had briefly led after the opening superspecial but by Friday morning, a puncture had ripped the right-rear corner of his car to shreds, dropping him down the order. He recovered all the way to second after punctures for Evans and Katsuta, only to lose 10 minutes himself with a fuel system issue on Saturday afternoon.

Another twist came on the first pass of Hell’s Gate on Sunday, hitting a rock that had been dragged into the middle of the road and breaking his right-rear suspension. He was able to limp back to service for repairs and was able to limit his losses to around 15s.

Despite a difficult event Neuville remains in the lead of the championship, outpacing Evans in a straight fight on Sunday to outscore him by six points across both day points, his cause aided by winning the powerstage.

“I tried,” said Neuville. “To be honest, if you ask me where I get this motivation, this never give up spirit, I don’t know. But it’s in there and we really pushed hard this weekend.”


Thierry Neuville would be forgiven for feeling like the Safari had been one giant blur, such were the dramas he'd encountered

Ott Tänak ended up in eighth place overall, having retired on Friday when he hit a rock that broke his steering and sent him straight into a bank. He managed to climb back to 10th to score a single point on Saturday, then clinched another seven on Sunday by being fastest over the final day’s six stages.

Reasons to be happy were few and far between for Esapekka Lappi. His hopes of a strong result were shattered on Friday when his gearbox failed while running in second place. More strife followed on Saturday when two birds flew into his windscreen in quick succession on Sleeping Warrior: the first strike weakened the windscreen, the second obliterated it, leaving Lappi to clean out loose shards of glass from his eye at the end of the day.

Lappi returned on Sunday and was yet again in trouble, struck down by another technical problem. Hyundai replaced a driveshaft at service and Lappi was five minutes late leaving final service, costing him 50s in penalties – though it made no difference at all to his final result, having lost so much time on the previous two days.

“It’s really hard to find anything positive,” said Lappi after his technical woes on Sunday morning. It goes from bad to worse, to worse, to worse. Really s***.

“I take a drink now, hopefully something else than water [in my bottle],” he quipped.

Jourdan Serderidis clinched ninth place overall on his return to the Rally1 category with M-Sport, getting from start to end in one piece and without major incident. The same could not be said for the second points-scoring Ford Puma of Grégoire Munster, who had retired on Saturday after he struck a rock with the rear-left corner of his car.

Gus Greensmith clinched WRC2 victory in his first appearance of 2024 in unusual circumstances. Earlier in the week he’d been so unwell that he’d considered withdrawing entirely but pressed on while ill, describing Friday as the most difficult day he’d ever spent in a rally car.

Gus Greensmith

Much like Rovanperä in Rally1, Greensmith built a big early lead and managed it to the finish

But the effort was worth it: a double puncture for Oliver Solberg and Kajetan Kajetanowicz driving in a “boring” manner meant he’d built a lead of over three minutes early on, which he managed carefully as Solberg charged back to second place.

“I don’t know what I’m more proud of; not s****** myself on Friday or actually winning the rally!” said Greensmith at the finish line, indicative of how unwell he was early in the rally.

Solberg’s charge had been ended before it began with his Friday punctures – but second place still strengthened his lead in the WRC2 championship: “At least it’s good points for the championship, which is the most important thing,” he said.

Kajetanowicz completed the podium places in the WRC2 class, ahead of Hyundai i20 N Rally2 pairing Nicolas Ciamin and Charles Munster.