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.
He held position, triumphing 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 – 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 had a silver lining 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.
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.
Safari Rally Kenya Final Standings:
1. S Ogier / V Landais FRA Toyota GR Yaris 3h 30m 42.5s
2. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota GR Yaris +6.7s
3. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota GR Yaris +2m 58.5s
4. T Katsuta / A Johnston JPN Toyota GR Yaris +3m 23.8s
5. D Sordo / C Carrera ESP Hyundai i20 N +5m 05.4s
6. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Ford Puma +9m 14.4s