Rovanpera maintains overnight lead as other big names nosedive

Kalle Rovanpera from Finland navigated by John Haltunnen driving Toyota Yaris cruises through Soysambu ranch during WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2022 in Naivasha on Saturday 25, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

It was a tough afternoon as drivers waded through heavy rains, mud baths, darkness and slippery trenches yesterday at the Safari Rally that traversed Soysambu, Elmenteita and Sleeping Warrior stages in Naivasha.

More punishing was the tough 31.04km Sleeping Warrior that had Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville stuck in the middle of the route before going off road at 30.9km.

M-Sport Ford’s Sebastien Loeb suffered a puncture and damaged suspension on the route set on the shadow of a hill that resembles a sleeping Maasai warrior and crisscrosses the natural plains before a rocky finish.

Another M-Sport Ford pilot, Serderidis Jourdan, also got stuck in the wet slippery mud that blurred the windscreens when wiped.

Despite the many problems that characterised the day, Kalle Rovanpera of Toyota Gazoo Racing managed to stretch his overnight lead by 40.3 seconds.

The 21-year-old Finn bagged the Elmenteita 2 stage (9:47.1) out of the six stages that were contested on the day. Rovanpera currently leads the 2022 World Rally Championship series on 120 points.

“I don’t even know how we did it. We were basically off two tones in the water. We couldn’t keep the car in a straight line and I couldn’t see anything,” Rovanpera said.

Toyota had a 1-4 sweep, with Elfyn Evans (2:53:20.0), Takamoto Katsuta (2:53:55.3) and Sebastien Ogier (2:55:18.0) ending the day in that order.

The tough Safari Rally continued to claim more casualties yesterday with M-Sport pilot Gus Greensmith, Tanak Ott and Thierry Neuville becoming the latest victims of the cruel Naivasha terrains.

Greensmith rolled several times in Stage 8, the Soysambu 1, which saw his Ford Puma Rally1 hybrid car retire from the championship. It was still not known if he will resume the challenge under penalty today.

Kenyan Maxine Wahome navigated by Murage Waigwa crosses a river at Soysambu ranch in Naivasha during WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2022 in Nairobi on Saturday 25, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard] 

“It was really horrible,” Greensmith said before he retired.

Greensmith was the fourth M-Sport Ford driver to suffer bad luck in the competition after nine time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb, Craig Breen, and Adrien Fourmaux were all forced out on Friday by mechanical problems but made a return to the championship yesterday under heavy penalties. Oliver Solberg also suffered a puncture in Soysambu 1 that also had Johnston Sean of US, Leroy Gomes of Zambia and Kenyans Hamza Anwar and Josiah Kairiuki slapped with various penalties.

Neuville and Katsuta sustained punctures earlier in Soysambu as Tanak of Hyundai was forced out.

Afternoon sessions that were marked with heavy rains saw Breen slowed down with a puncture as Kenyan drivers; Karan Patel, Muiruri, Jeremy Wahome, Maxine Wahome, Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo, Evans Kavisi and Miranda Daren all got penalties at Soysambu 2.