The final day battle to win Safari Rally Kenya was not what Toyota had envisaged, but the drivers were not told they could not fight according to World Rally champion Kalle Rovanperä.
Sébastien Ogier won the event for the second time in his career but it was far from straightforward – particularly on the final day where Ogier lost his tailgate in the morning, lost power due to fesh-fesh on the penultimate stage and then battled with a cracked windshield after a stone flicked up and broke it on the powerstage.
However one thing Ogier hadn’t appeared to factor in was an attack from his team-mate Rovanperä who started the final day 16.7 seconds behind and talking a championship game rather than an all-out push for the win.
But the reigning champion beat Ogier by 8.1s on Sunday’s first stage, Malewa, to close to just 8.6s behind.
Ogier was then forced to respond on the following stage and did so, taking 8.6s back for himself to build his lead back up to 17.2s.
Eventually, Ogier beat Rovanperä by just 6.7s.
Ever since its return to the World Rally Championship in 2017, Toyota has opted against team orders. The only time it has ever issued any kind of instruction was on the 2021 Monza Rally, where Ogier and Elfyn Evans were battling for the drivers’ championship and Rovanperä was asked not to interfere and just drive to secure the manufacturers’ title.
That therefore remained the case on the final morning of the Safari, despite the stakes being so high with the team on course to score a 1-2-3-4 finish on the famous event for the second year in succession.
Rovanperä confirmed to DirtFish that no team instruction was given, but hinted that Toyota would have preferred its drivers not to fight each other even if it didn’t explicitly say so.
“Yeah it was maybe not the idea what they had,” Rovanperä said. “But there wasn’t a no for that either. It was for us to decide.”
Ogier admitted he was surprised by Rovanperä’s attack, but mainly specifically where he decided to push – even if Rovanperä felt his SS14 speed came from “everyone else backing down a bit”.
Ogier told DirtFish: “I have to say yeah I was surprised by the place he pushed, because this first stage it was the roughest section of the weekend with huge rocks everywhere and he goes flat out into it.
“I didn’t expect that, that’s for sure.
“But yeah, we had the pace to respond and we responded straight away the stage after and like I say, with this tailgate issue of course it added a bit of drama again.
“But probably the hardest issue today was the fesh-fesh on the last loop where, yeah, that was close to being game over for us.”
Ogier confessed the series of final day surprises made the 58th victory of his career one of the toughest.
“I didn’t know what to feel because it was a hell of a fight the whole weekend honestly. I rarely had to fight so much like this,” he said.
“Sometimes you have to fight hard against the clock and against your competitors but this it was even more fighting against all of these small issues that I had to face the whole weekend.
“And yeah obviously at the same time Kalle was having a great speed so he was not far behind and I was thinking ‘when the hell am I going to be able to drive smoothly without something slowing me down?’
“The last one was probably the biggest one with the overheating issue on the penultimate stage with a lot of temperature in the engine and obviously some damage as well because we finished powerstage with reduced power it was clear.
“Glad that we are at the end.”
Rovanperä appeared dejected immediately after the powerstage, but declared himself happy with a weekend where he extended his championship lead to 37 points over Thierry Neuville.
“Yeah I think we have to be happy with that,” he said.
“Our plan was to have a clean and clever weekend and we managed to do that. We didn’t change our plan at any point and we still kept pushing Séb a bit.
“So that’s not so bad.”