- Ogier leads and Rovanpera is second
- Toyota topped all the time sheets on the penultimate day
- The rally ends on Sunday
Frenchman Sebastian Ogier maintained his lead at the WRC Safari Rally, with his Toyota Gazoo Rallying team looking all set for a clean sweep in Naivasha, after a well laid out performance on day two.
Ogier will charge for the title in a two-way battle for the title with Toyota teammate Kalle Rovanperä.
The Toyota GR Yaris cars topped the timesheets in every single stage, and Ogier looked set to end this penultimate leg comfortably in front of his championship-leading colleague, the Frenchman happy to measure his pace and keep a watchful eye on those behind after overcoming tyre damage in SS8.
But a sudden downpour in the closing 31.04km Sleeping Warrior caused chaos. The dry and dusty roads quickly turned to mud and offered minimal grip in conditions akin to ice.
Ogier, the last of the of the Rally1 cars into the stage, was perhaps hit harder by the conditions than any of his rivals, limping to the finish line with two slow punctures. It meant the Frenchman’s advantage was sliced in half after conceding more than 15sec and he will start Sunday’s six-stage finale just 16.7sec clear at the top.
A repeat 1-2-3-4 Safari finish looks all but guaranteed for Toyota, but which driver will be heading it come tomorrow afternoon is anybody’s guess.
“Even on the straights, second gear was quite high-speed,” laughed Rovanperä at the finish. “We are here in one piece and that was the only goal for today.”
Lappi retires in a day of drama
There was more drama in the battle for the final podium spot after Esapekka Lappi, who held the place until SS12, retired his Hyundai i20 N with suspected propshaft failure.
Elfyn Evans inherited the position before being passed by Takamoto Katsuta, although the Welshman fared better in the wet weather conditions and moved back in front. 16.7sec split the Toyota-driving duo at close of play, with Rovanperä more than two minutes further up the road.
Lappi’s demise, coupled with Thierry Neuville’s Friday retirement, means that Hyundai’s hopes now rest on Dani Sordo’s shoulders. The Spaniard trailed Evans by 1min 12.3sec to hold fifth overnight with Ott Tänak almost five minutes behind.
Tänak’s Safari frustrations continued when he and co-driver Martin Järveoja stopped in Soysambu 2 to carry out their second wheel change of the weekend. Pierre-Louis Loubet, driving a similar M-Sport Ford Puma, held seventh despite a run-in with a bush in SS10.
Grégoire Munster’s retirement handed the WRC2 lead to Kajetan Kajetanowicz, now eighth overall. Neuville climbed to ninth by the day’s end while Oliver Solberg, who is not registered to score WRC2 points this week, completed the leaderboard.
Sunday’s finale features three stages – each run twice – located on the southern side of Lake Naivasha.
Hamza forced to retire in WRC3
Meanwhile, in the WRC3 category, FIA Junior WRC regular Hamza Anwar was forced to retire after picking up three punctures on the day’s final stage.
Diego Dominguez was unrivalled as all other competitors in the all-Ford Fiesta Rally3 class required assistance to get back to the Naivasha service park.
Anwar’s troubles from Friday afternoon continued into Saturday morning when the Kenyan hopeful came to an abrupt halt following a water splash on the day’s first stage.
Next to falter was Jason Bailey. After winning the opening stage of the day and sitting a comfortable second overall, the Canadian hit a compression and damaged his engine’s oil sump, elevating Jeremiah Wahome into second at the end of the loop.
Further back in the field, there were also problems for last year’s Junior WRC participant McRae Kimathi, whose rally ended with a broken steering arm.