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WRC - Ogier survives Rovanperä’s challenge to Safary Rally Kenya's crown


2023 Safari Rally Kenya - Sunday report

Sébastien Ogier defied team-mate Kalle Rovanperä’s charge to head home a dream 1-2-3-4 finish for Toyota Gazoo Racing on a spectacular final day at Safari Rally Kenya.

Ogier recorded his third victory from just five starts so far this season but his rally very nearly unravelled in Sunday’s second special stage when a patch of Kenya’s infamous fesh-fesh sand sent his GR Yaris car wide on a right-hand bend.

The Frenchman, fighting hard to recover time lost to Rovanperä in the rocky opener, clipped a tree and ripped off his car’s entire rear tailgate. Amazingly winning the stage and making all the time back, he then patched the gap using a bin liner to keep dust at bay in Hell’s Gate 1.

More permanent repairs in service did not extinguish the drama, however, as all four Yaris crews completed the penultimate blast with dust-induced overheating engines. Ogier, one of the hardest hit, saw his lead whittled down to just 9.2sec before the Wolf Power Stage finale, where the eight-time world champion's run was again far from clean, arriving at the flying finish with a cracked windscreen.

Despite the late scare, he was able to triumph by 6.7sec after four brutal days to spearhead Toyota’s second clean sweep in as many Safari Rally editions.

President William Ruto presented Ogier and co-driver Vincent Landais with their trophies, commemorating Ogier's second win at the event, amid stunning scenery at Hell's Gate.

"Unbelievable! Look at that, even on the Power Stage I got a stone on the windscreen! We had a lot of issues to face but it could have been a more comfortable rally for us in terms of pace. A lot of misfortune but we brought it home," quipped Ogier.

Finishing as runner-up felt like a personal victory for the title-defending Rovanperä, who extended his championship lead to 37 points after round seven of 13.

He said: “You always want to fight for the win but we did our best starting first car on the road, so regarding that I think it's not fully bad. Good points for the season anyway,” offered Rovanperä at the completion of the Wolf Power Stage.

Takamoto Katsuta’s hopes of surpassing team-mate Elfyn Evans and achieving a third Safari Rally podium vanished when his car’s hybrid unit stopped working, sapping vital performance. He settled for fourth overall, 25.3sec back from the Toyota-driving Welshman with Ogier and Rovanperä more than two minutes up the road.

Dani Sordo overcame power steering failure in SS16 to finish an isolated fifth at the end of a testing weekend for Hyundai Motorsport, which now trails Toyota by 42 points in the manufacturers’ title race.

Early podium challenger Esapekka Lappi was way down the order after being plagued by transmission issues in his i20 N while Thierry Neuville, recovering from suspension failure on Friday, could only muster eighth.

Tyre troubles earlier in the rally prevented M-Sport Ford Puma drivers Ott Tänak and Pierre-Louis Loubet from mounting any form of attack. They finished sixth and seventh respectively.  

Eighth-placed Kajetan Kajetanowicz secured his second Kenyan WRC2 victory in a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo. Oliver Solberg was not nominated to score points in the support category but finished ninth overall while Martin Prokop completed the top 10.

In WRC2, Kajetan Kajetanowicz confirmed his second Safari Rally Kenya win in as many years with a masterful drive in typically challenging conditions on the classic African event.

The Škoda-driving Pole cruised to Sunday afternoon’s finish more than 11 minutes in front of nearest-placed challenger Martin Prokop, vaulting from ninth to fourth in the championship standings as a result.

Kajetanowicz tussled with M-Sport Ford youngster Grégoire Munster through Friday and Saturday but found himself comfortably clear at the top when his Fiesta Rally2 rival pulled over with a mechanical issue. A cool and clever run through the closing six special stages was all that was needed to bring home the victory.

"We did it again! It's an amazing feeling. It was so nice to be here again - it seemed to be easy but it wasn't. Thank you to my team and Maciej, I think we did quite a good job," said Kajetanowicz, referencing his co-driver Maciej Szczepaniak.

It was a case of third time lucky for Prokop, who crashed in 2021 and retired with engine failure in 2022. A Friday misfire caused minor frustration for the Czech star but he achieved a career-best WRC2 result alongside co-driver Zdeněk Jůrka.

Local legend Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo met his target of finishing inside the top three, trailing Prokop by 2min 55sec in a Škoda Fabia R5. Armin Kremer, driving a slightly newer model, claimed fourth and also won the WRC Masters Cup category.

Completing the strong Polish showing over the weekend, Daniel Chwist rounded out the top five in his Škoda Fabia RS Rally2. 

Diego Dominguez climbed to second in the WRC3 championship standings with an assured drive to claim victory in the all-Ford Fiesta Rally3 category at Safari Rally Kenya.

So brutal was Africa’s punishing power that Dominguez was the only driver in the category to reach the finish without utilising restart rules. He topped the timesheets by 55min 08.8sec after four days of rough gravel action, reducing absent championship leader Roope Korhonen’s advantage to just 13 points.

The Paraguayan’ maintained a cautious policy in Friday’s opening leg, eager to avoid a repeat of his crash-induced retirement here 12 months ago. But when local rival Hamza Anwar suffered three punctures that afternoon, Dominguez was in the clear and never looked back.

Jason Bailey was the best of the rest, a top-two result giving the Canadian something to smile about after his crew worked hard to repair a damaged engine sump overnight. He overcame a broken wheel in Sunday morning's final stage to head McRae Kimathi, who was sidelined by broken steering on Saturday.

Hamza Anwar and Jeremiah Wahome, both competing on home soil, failed to restart after their cars sustained terminal damage in the same Soysambu water splash on Saturday. 

The FIA World Rally Championship returns to Europe next month when the super-fast gravel roads of Rally Estonia host round eight from 20 - 23 July.