Rovanpera clinches WRC Safari Rally title as Toyota rules Naivasha
- Rovanpera has ow won four of the five WRC Rallies so far
- The Toyota Gazoo racing Tea, swept the top four places
- The Fin had finished top in Naivasha from Friday
Finnish driver Kalle Rovanpera cemented his hold on the World rally Championship leaderboard after winning a tough WRC Safari Rally in Naivasha on Sunday.
The 21-year old has now won four out of five Championship races this season and he is the man to beat as drivers battle for the top overall title. He also led a Toyota sweep of the top four places with the Yarris Rally One cars proving to be the most resilient in difficult circumstances.
This is the first time since 1993 that the Toyota Gazoo Rallying team swept the top four places.
Rovanpera moved to Naivasha behind defending champion Sebastian Ogier after Thursday’s opening SS1 at the Kasarani Stadium but when competition began proper, there was no stopping him.
The Fin battled through illness the entire weekend to claim the top drawer title and his first ever win in Kenya. It was a massive gift for his dad Harri who finished second in the 2002 Safari rally, the last time Kenya hosted the WRC event before it returned last year.
“It feels great. I have to say, this was the hardest rally I have ever done and if I am honest we just have to thank the team. To have four cars like this with no issues means it is clearly the strongest and fastest car. The team did a fantastic job,” Rovanpera said after the Rally.
Sizeable Saturday lead comes to the rescue
He carried a sizeable 40.3sec margin into Sunday’s finale and his superb driving saw him extend further by another two fastest times and the youngster ended the bruising four-day fixture 52.8sec clear of Elfyn Evans to head up the Yaris quartet.
Welshman Evans combated his troubled result last time out in Sardinia with a relatively drama-free drive. A puncture on SS10 was a minor scare, while a non-functional windscreen washer also led to some hairy moments during Saturday’s mudbath.
He finished 49.9sec ahead of Takamoto Katsuta, who sealed back-to-back Safari podiums after finishing runner-up last year. The Japanese driver kept a keen eye on his mirrors with Ogier behind and ended 27.6sec ahead of the eight-time world champion.
Ogier – winner of last year’s Safari – had mixed emotions at the end of the rally. Friday’s tyre trouble put him out of contention and he conceded more time on Saturday when the car’s engine ingested some of Africa’s famous fesh-fesh sand.
The hotly-anticipated battle with compatriot Sébastien Loeb never materialised either, as the nine-time world champion retired his M-Sport Ford Puma with engine woes on Friday.
Nevertheless, Ogier was pleased to bring home more solid points for Toyota during his part-time campaign.
Hyundai woes continue with various problems
Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville was over 10 minutes behind in fifth overall despite incurring a 10min penalty when he crashed into a tree and failed to finish Saturday’s Sleeping Warrior finale.
It was a weekend to forget for the Korean manufacturer, with Estonian Ott Tänak’s i20 N also sidelined by a broken propshaft on the penultimate leg and retiring for a second time with power steering failure on Sunday.
Both drivers held onto second and third in the championship and Neuville collected five bonus points for winning the Wolf Power Stage.
Craig Breen restarted after his early bath on Friday and ended as M-Sport Ford’s leading driver in sixth overall despite nursing suspension problems.
The British squad also endured a tough outing with Gus Greensmith rolling out of contention on SS8 and Adrien Fourmaux succumbing to suspension issues soon afterwards.
Breen gained a position when Oliver Solberg stopped in the middle of the road with an air filter full of dust, causing the cancellation of Sunday’s opener. The young Swede eventually got going again but was plagued by a mechanical issue in the closing speed tests and dropped to 10th.
Puma privateer Jourdan Serderidis steered clear of trouble to finish seventh overall followed by a recovering Loeb and Polish driver Kajetan Kajetanowicz, who secured an emphatic WRC2 victory.
-Additional reporting from WRC