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Toyota in 1-2-3-4 finish as Kalle Rovanpera wins WRC Safari Rally Kenya

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] 

When the 2022 World Rally Championships (WRC) series leader Kalle Rovanpera jetted into Kenya last week for the grueling Safari rally, he had three missions to accomplish.

First, the young Finn wanted to improve on his disappointing fifth place finish at Rally Italia Sardegna early this month.

Secondly, the 21-year-old speedster wanted to right the wrongs he made in the Safari Rally last season, which saw him retire from the championships without a podium finish.

Lastly, the Toyota Gazoo Racing pilot was out to complete his father’s dream of winning the glittering Safari Rally gong.

And on Sunday, Rovanpera completed the bucket list in style.

Toyota Gazoo Racing team, Elfyn Evans (2nd Left) and his navigator Scott Martin (Left), Kalle Rovanpera (3rd Right) and his navigator Jonne Halttunen (3rd Left), Takamoto Katsuta (2nd Right) and his navigator Aaron Johnston (Right) celebrates with their trophies after winning the WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2022 in position 2,1 and 3 respectively at KWS Headquarters in naivasha on June 26, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

While driving a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 hybrid car and navigated by his compatriot Halttunen Jonne, Rovanpera romped to victory in 3:40:24.9 after four days of proper 363.5kms rally that traversed grueling 19 stages in the lakeside town of Naivasha.

He also led his team Toyota to a 1-2-3-4 finish on the final day with his compatriots Elfy Evans, Takamoto Katsuta and Sebastien Ogier finishing in that order.

The feat saw him stretch his overall lead in the series as well as score manufacturers points for Toyota.

"Hell's Gate was quite rough. I just tried to avoid all the stones,” Rovanpera Kalle said.

Rovanpera’s father, Harri, finished second in the 2002 Safari Rally before Kenya went into a 19-year hiatus from the world championships.

The 2016 and 2017 Latvian open class champion is currently the Lionel Messi of the 2022 WRC series, having now bagged four of the six legs held.

Ahead of Kenyan leg, the youngster had victories in Sweden, Croatia and Portugal that saw him bag 120 points, including winning the power stages where additional points are added to the tally.

Returning legend Sebastien Loeb of M-Sport Ford and Ott Tanak of Hyundaihe won the other two circuits; Monaco and Italy.

The highly talented young driver garnered international attention when he started rallying at an exceptionally young age. He has been driving cars since the age of six, and bikes and ATVs since he was three.

He took part in his first rally, in Estonia, at just 10-years-old, and was competing in Latvia at 13, albeit only on special stages.

He became a fully-fledged WRC driver from the beginning of 2020 season, when he switched to an all-new driver line-up at Toyota Gazoo Racing and became the youngest ever podium finisher at Rally Sweden.

He also boasts being the youngest driver to ever win a WRC event after triumphing in the 2021 Rally Estonia at the age of 20 years.

Meanwhile, Oliver Solberg of Hyundai was yesterday stuck twice at Oserian 1 due to engine failure but was lucky to proceed on after he managed to roar the vehicle back to life.

Kenya’s Daren Miranda was a casualty in Narasha 1 after his vehicle had mechanical failures that forced him to retire.

Craig Breen of M-Sport Ford, Solberg and Kenya’s Jeremy Wahome were slapped with penalties in Narasha.