What we learned from Safari Rally Kenya 2024

A grueling event in Africa provided plenty of insight into this year's WRC storylines

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Unless your name was Kalle Rovanperä, if you were a World Rally Championship driver competing on Safari Rally Kenya, you ran into trouble at least once last week.

At times the rally was a topsy-turvy affair. Toyota and Hyundai drivers took turns running into problems (as did M-Sport’s Grégoire Munster); there were equal amounts of punctures and technical dramas, depending on the car in question.

We learned nothing new about Kalle Rovanperä last week – the world champion putting in a textbook victory was hardly unexpected. But trailing in the wake of the #69 Toyota was a gaggle of drivers having their patience tested repeatedly by the Safari. And through those struggles, we collectively learned a lot.

Reasons for Hyundai’s urgent push for a new car laid bare


Hyundai's mechanics are fighting a losing battle with existing Rally1 car

Rumors about Hyundai’s position in the WRC had been rumbling for weeks. There had been some bewilderment around whether Thierry Neuville would retire at the end of 2024 or not – the point he was trying to make is if there was no Hyundai, there’d be no drive for him and he’d have to quit.

But why would he make that point in the first place? It started to make sense once DirtFish spoke to Cyril Abiteboul in Kenya: they’d had to bin the development of a new i20 – and being able to build that new car immediately is key to Hyundai’s commitment to the WRC.

Why that new car is so important became startlingly apparent in Kenya: there are fundamental flaws baked into the car’s design that cannot be fixed through upgrades.

Transmission woes which have affected the cars multiple times in the past reared their head again. Past fixes for those reliability woes related to the transmission were not really a fix at all – it simply moved the weak spot of the overall system to a different component. And between limitations on testing and homologation jokers, Hyundai cannot fully cure its reliability problems.

What’s clear from Safari is the i20 N Rally1 is fast but still somewhat fragile. It needs a fresh sheet of paper to cure its problems once and for all – but will it be allowed one in time?

Fourmaux’s progression has been validated


Fourmaux is on the right route to success

Adrien Fourmaux already appeared to be a changed driver during his season in WRC2 and BRC. Overeagerness had made way to a more balanced sensibility. Chucking it off the road early on last season’s finale, Rally Japan, raised the obvious question mark of whether he’d really learned anything at all after that step down.

Initial signs in 2024 had looked good. But Safari cemented what had already appeared to be the case in Monte Carlo and Sweden: Adrien est mort, vive Adrien.

Before the season started there was talk about M-Sport picking its moments; rallies where it knew its better-resourced rivals might push too hard and falter, opening the door for its less experienced lineup to shine. Doing it once in a while is, to a degree, luck: to do it twice in a row is not. That’s being methodical.

Two months ago Fourmaux had no idea what standing on a WRC podium was like – at least the one that happens next to the powerstage finish, an opportunity afforded solely to the Rally1 crews. Success breeds confidence and knowing the Adrien 2.0 he deliberately cultivated brings far more reward will empower him further; the next step is to be confident yet calm that, in time, a first win is down the path. Just don’t run down the path – the risk of tripping remains ever-present.

Solberg is learning how to drive like a champion

Oliver Solberg

Safari wasn't plain sailing for Solberg, but he showed his mettle

Raw speed has never been missing from Oliver Solberg’s locker; that’s been apparent for a long time. He spent last season trying to show his tenacity behind the wheel by being faster than everyone else – after all, beating someone as experienced as Andreas Mikkelsen over the course of a WRC2 season was always going to be a tough ask.

But trying to be fastest at every given moment is not always the route to a championship title. Picking your battles matters. When Solberg picked up two punctures on Friday morning it raised the question of whether he’d throw the kitchen sink at closing the 3m30s deficit it created to class leader Gus Greensmith.

After all, his Toksport team-mate was very under the weather and running on adrenaline to stay in the rally, such was his condition on Friday – there was a chance to put a weakened rival under the cosh by going full send.

Solberg did not do that. He accepted that second place was a valuable result for the championship and refused to get carried away. He still had a job to do; that Friday drama had initially dropped him out of the podium places altogether. But he made quick work of Nicolas Ciamin and Kajetan Kajetanowicz.

To be a prime candidate for a factory drive, you must be the full package: rapid, PR-savvy but, most of all, consistent. Kenya was more ammo loaded into column three.

Controversial points system is playing to Neuville’s strengths


Extending your points lead despite finishing 10 minutes off the pace is good reason for a wry smile

Our comments section on social media is currently on fire with people lambasting the new-for-2024 points system. Whether those criticisms are warranted or not is beside the point in this case.

The drivers take the system they are given. They must drive in a way that maximizes their opportunities within the framework that system provides.

Thierry Neuville knows how to make that system work to his advantage. It suits him. His “never give up spirit,” as he calls it, was made for this scenario.

He’s a risk taker. Sometimes those risks go too far – as recently as Rally Japan last year his own team principal was criticizing him for his overzealousness behind the wheel.

But what that does mean is Neuville can use the positive aspect of that approach in a lower-risk manner. He’s probably going to be stuck high up the road order on gravel rallies for most of the year, which means lots of road sweeping. This system gives him an opportunity to bide his time and then push the limit over a condensed time period.

Safari showed that, when faced with a scenario that means nailing your balls to the dashboard and putting the car on its doorhandles to chase 12 points on a Sunday, he’s the best out there. Elfyn Evans simply had no answer to either Neuville or Hyundai team-mate Ott Tänak, who has a similar proclivity for going full send when the situation requires it.

Even on a day when he hit a rock and broke his suspension, Neuville was only one point short of a perfect Sunday. He hit the perfect 12 on the Monte. He could finish fifth on every round between now and the end of the season and it wouldn’t matter, so long as he kept putting in perfect Sundays – he’d likely be world champion regardless.

Is that a flaw in the system? Maybe. But it’s there to leverage. And Neuville is the best at leveraging it.