After a 19 year hiatus, the Safari Rally returns to the WRC calendar, once again the event headquartered out of Nairobi just as it was back in 2002. Compared to 2002 though, the event is somewhat shorter and doesn’t tackle the same brutal stages; this doesn’t mean that the Safari Rally has gone soft, with punishing dusty high speed stages & enormous bumps & ruts all along the stages. Add in the punishing arid heat and you have a perfect recipe for a car breaking rally.
The opening day of the event was very much advantage Thierry Neuville & Hyundai. The Belgian driver quickly got to work, having a clear speed advantage over the Toyota which floundered on the opening day. Stage 3 on Friday was particularly brutal as Elfyn Evans retired a few hundred metres from the end of the stage; the left front suspension on the Welshman’s Toyota Yaris was completely broken and Evans retired, but would rejoin proceedings on the Saturday under Rally2 regulations. Dani Sordo came to grief earlier in the very same stage, rolling his Hyundai i20 out of the event, the second time that the affable Spaniard has rolled out of a rally this year.
Sebastien Ogier struggled to match Neuville’s pace on the Friday but came to grief, damaging the suspension on his Toyota Yaris and dropping time. Takamoto Katsuta enjoyed a steady and consistent day, one of only a few drivers to finish Friday’s running without issue.
Saturday was much the same as Friday; Thierry Neuville working hard and continuing to extend his advantage as the leader in dominant fashion. Neuville would claim 6 fastest stage times on Saturday, pulling a significant advantage over a chasing Takamoto Katsuta, the young Japanese driver performing brilliantly on the Kenyan stages. Ott Tanak found his feet on Saturday and was steadily closing in on Katsuta for 2nd place; Tanak desperate for a strong result to refire his championship challenge which has rapidly lost momentum over the last couple of events. Sebastien Ogier shone on Saturday afternoon, taking 3 fastest stage times & snatching 3rd place from Ott Tanak by close of the day.
The final stage on Saturday, the catchily named Sleeping Warrior caused mayhem for everyone; a massive downpour turned the from a dry, dusty stage into a rain soaked mud bath. The fearsome conditions were not expected and drivers found themselves struggling to just get through the stage. The windscreen of Ott Tanak’s Hyundai i20 steamed up so badly he had no choice but to pull over and clear the windscreen, losing over a minute and allowing a recovering Sebastien Ogier to jump into 3rd. Thierry Neuville held onto the lead going into the final day, Takamoto Katsuta dropped 20 seconds to Neuville in the final stage after sliding off and then back onto the Sleeping Warrior stage in the torrential conditions.
Thierry Neuville planned on consolidating and maintaining his lead on the final day to score a long overdue victory for Hyundai, but lady luck had other ideas. Hyundai’s frankly abysmal luck struck again; suspension failure on the right rear of Neuville’s Hyundai meant it was game over with the Belgian’s hard work being undone. It once again raises the question around the integrity of the Hyundai’s rear suspension with at least 1 car suffering an identical failure on almost every event so far.
Takamoto Katsuta briefly climbed up into the lead of the rally, but a hard charging Sebastien Ogier jumped into the lead; the Frenchman didn’t look back and claimed victory in what was an event fraught with attrition and drama. Takamoto Katsuta claimed his career best & first podium finish in 2nd place ahead of Ott Tanak in 3rd. Adrien Formaux finished in 4th after battling with teammate Gus Greensmith who finished 5th ahead of Kalle Rovanpera.
Rally Estonia will see the championship return to Europe on July 15th-18th, until next time, stay safe.
WRC Safari Rally Kenya results:
- Sebasiten Ogier
- Takamoto Katsuta
- Ott Tanak
- Adrien Formaux
- Gus Greensmith
WRC Drivers standings:
- Sebastien Ogier – 133 points
- Elfyn Evans – 99 points
- Thierry Neuville – 77 points
- Ott Tanak – 69 points
- Takamoto Katsuta – 66 points
- Kalle Rovanpera – 56 points
- Adrien Formaux – 32 points
- Gus Greensmith – 32 points
WRC Manufacturers Championship:
- Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – 273 points
- Hyundai Shell mobis world rally team – 214 points
- M-Sport Ford world rally team – 109 points
- Hyundai 2C Competition – 28 points