Rovanperä takes Safari lead, Neuville punctures

Kalle Rovanperä dominates the Kedong stage while the championship leader hits trouble


Kalle Rovanperä leads the chasing pack at Safari Rally Kenya after blitzing Friday morning’s Kedong stage, as championship leader Thierry Neuville fell back with a puncture-related drama.

Neuville had been overnight leader after topping Thursday’s rally-opening Kasarani superspecial. But as first car on the road, the Belgian couldn’t match the pace of late runners Rovanperä and Esapekka Lappi through Friday morning.

On the first pass of Geothermal Neuville pushed too hard at one left-hander, clipping a bank on the outside and puncturing his right-rear. Towards the end of the stage the tire began to disintegrate, ripping apart the bodywork on his i20 N Rally1 and damaging the damper.

With a hole in the side of his car, Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe fitted goggles and Neuville a face mask, pre-empting his cockpit being flooded with dust. Mercifully for both, it turned out to be a non-issue – though he had lost hybrid power in the process.

“It was better than I thought,” said Neuville afterwards. “Lucky we had the mask. It stayed somehow clean, we were expecting more dust.”

Title rival Elfyn Evans failed to capitalize on Neuville’s dramas; he finished the loop only 4.9s ahead, taking fifth place away from the points leader on Kedong.

“For sure I can be a lot better, so I’m a bit disappointed with the morning as a whole,” admitted Evans. “Let’s see if we can improve in the afternoon. We need to figure out what to change.”

As expected, the lead Toyota was the firm’s 2024 part-timer Rovanperä, though after the first two stages his lead over Lappi was a narrow one.


Lappi's call to take a single spare was somewhat vindicated by his early pace

The Rally Sweden winner had taken a risk by carrying one less spare tire than everyone else, seemingly confident that everyone else had taken one too many.

That decision was the right one, it transpired – but it made no difference on the longest stage of the loop, Kedong, where Rovanperä demolished the entire field after putting in a “really big push” to go quickest by 11.1s.

Lappi and Hyundai team-mate Ott Tänak are only 1.3s apart in second and third; Tänak had been losing a handful of seconds to the Rally Sweden winner on Loldia and Geothermal but pulled it all back on Kedong, where Lappi struggled with his i20 N Rally1 turning into a bucking bronco over the bumps.

“I’m not satisfied with the damping we have and it caught me out again, put me out of the line,” said Lappi at the end of the morning.

Having crashed out of the lead battle on the previous round in Sweden, Takamoto Katsuta admitted to taking a cautious approach on Friday morning in Kenya.


A wary Katsuta didn't want to push too hard, allowing the Hyundais ahead to escape his grasp

Katsuta backed off on Kedong and lost touch with the podium places, falling into the clutches of team-mate Evans instead. The Toyota pair are separated by 1.8s heading to midday service.

Behind the trio of Toyotas and Hyundais is the lead M-Sport car of Adrien Fourmaux. He’d been running close behind Evans for most of the morning but was 47.7s off the pace on Kedong, through a mixture of setup issues and general caution.

“The car is too low and touching the sand sometimes,” explained Fourmaux, who plans to make some setup tweaks at service.

Grégoire Munster is already over a minute behind Fourmaux in the second Ford Puma Rally1.

Oliver Solberg’s hopes of a Safari Rally victory in the WRC2 class already appear to be in the bin, picking up two punctures in as many stages. On both occasions he pulled over mid-stage to change a wheel.

“F***ing hell it’s going well,” he said sarcastically crossing the finish line at Kedong.

That allowed Gus Greensmith to pull well clear in the lead of WRC2, who has 2m20s in hand over Nicolas Caiman’s Hyundai.


Gus Greensmith's WRC2 season start is going exactly to plan – his strategy of playing it safe and waiting for Solberg to run into trouble paid off immediately

“What the hell can you do? I don’t know,” Solberg rued at the Kedong time control. “From now it’s flat out.”

Kajetan Kajetanowicz, Safari winner in the WRC2 class for the last two years, also ran into trouble: on Kedong he scooped a load of fesh-fesh into the front of his car, choking his Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 and leaving it down on power.

He lost over a minute limping through the stage and fell from second to fourth, 1.9s behind Diego Dominguez’s Citroën C3.

Ciamin and Dominguez are only 13.8s apart and the Hyundai driver was quite lucky to retain second place; his car arrived at the end of the morning loop with a rear suspension issue.