WRC - Rovanperä on top in Kenya, Lappi and Tänak hit trouble


2024 Safari Rally Kenya - Friday report

Kalle Rovanperä dominated Friday’s opening leg of Safari Rally Kenya to build a 56.9-second lead on a dream day for his Toyota Gazoo Racing team.

The Finn, winner of the FIA World Rally Championship for two years running, was simply untouchable as he and co-driver Jonne Halttunen romped to fastest times on all six of Friday’s rugged gravel speed tests around Lake Naivasha.

His team-mates Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta made it a GR Yaris 1-2-3, the Japanese marque capitalising on what unravelled into a disastrous afternoon for rival team Hyundai Motorsport after its drivers Esapekka Lappi and Ott Tänak bowed into retirement.

Lappi had been Rovanperä’s nearest challenger at the day’s midpoint, but a transmission failure sidelined his i20 N car in the first stage after service. That elevated Tänak to second until his similar machine stopped in the following Geothermal test with broken steering after hitting a rock.

Evans and Katsuta were on hand to pick up the pieces and complete Toyota’s podium lockout. They were split by just 3.9s after Evans moved ahead in the final stage of the day.

“I have to be happy with that,” Rovanperä smiled. “For sure, on the last one the conditions were quite rough, and I think from every car [the ruts] get a bit deeper in places. I didn't take any risks and I was going around all the stones to try and keep the car in one piece. I would have loved to go even faster, but at this point this is okay!”

Championship leader Thierry Neuville became Hyundai’s only hope, although the Belgian encountered troubles himself with tyre damage in SS3. The flailing rubber punched a hole in his Hyundai’s bodywork, forcing the Belgian and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe to don goggles and dust masks for the final stage of the morning.

A more positive afternoon saw Neuville edge closer to podium position. Beaten only by Rovanperä in Kedong 2, he trails Katsuta by a mere 6.5s heading into Saturday’s penultimate leg.

M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux had to contend with his Puma surfing on its sump guard in some of the rougher sections, but he coped well to hold fifth after a relatively clean day. The Frenchman ended almost two minutes back from the lead with team-mate Grégoire Munster – contesting his first Safari in Rally1 machinery – a similar distance behind.

With Oliver Solberg hampered by tyre troubles on his Toksport-entered Škoda Fabia RS, his team-mate Gus Greensmith built a commanding lead in WRC2 and also placed seventh overnight. Jourdan Serderidis, Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Solberg completed the top 10.

Saturday is the longest day of the rally and features six stages totalling 160.96km. Up first is Soysambu, which starts at 08:01 (local).