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Ogier clinches Safari Rally title as Toyota dominate in Naivasha

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WRC Safari
Sebastian Ogier celebrates after winning the Safari Rally. PHOTO/WRC
  • Ogier edged out teammate Rovanpera
  • Toyota secured the first four podium slots
  • Thierry Neuville was disqualified from the rally 

 Frenchman Sébastien Ogier edged out team-mate Kalle Rovanperä’s charge to head home a dream 1-2-3-4 finish for Toyota Gazoo Racing as he clinched the WRC Safari Rally title in Naivasha on Sunday.

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.

Rovanpera in second place

Kalle Rovanperra during the rally. PHOTO/WRC

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.

Neuville disqualified from Safari Rally 

Theirry Neuville was suspended. PHOTO/WRC

Meanwhile, Thierry Neuville was disqualified despite finishing eighth.

The Hyundai Motorsport driver finished eighth overall at the FIA World Rally Championship’s seventh round but was disqualified by event stewards following a hearing at the rally base in Naivasha.

The stewards summarised the finding of the report received from the clerk of course that was initiated independently by the Safari Rally organisers. It indicated instances where an unauthorised person was seen, after reconnaissance, to be driving on routes that would be used as special stages over the course of the rally.

The person was on private property without authorisation and was stopped by Officials in two locations on two  different days. The evidence presented to the stewards indicated links of this person to Neuville.

When asked, Neuville promptly admitted to the stewards that he was aware of the identified person and that he had requested this person’s support in identifying specific concerns (areas where rocks had moved) in some special stages.

-Additional information courtesy WRC

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