Ogier maintains lead as Toyota dominates third day action in 'Vasha'

Toyota Gazoo driver Sebastien Ogier battles on on the third day of the Safari Rally in Naivasha on June 24, 2023. [WRC]

Toyota extended their dominance in the 2023 World Rally Championship (WRC), the Safari Rally, by clinching top four positions on Day Three in Naivasha on Saturday.

Eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier topped the day in 2:43:49.2.

The former Safari Rally champion had overall win in all the six stages contested.

Defending champion and teammate Kalle Rovanpera managed to narrow the gap between him and the Frenchman by four seconds, ending the day second in 2:44:05.9.

The Japanese manufacturers also bagged third and fourth places which went to Elfyn Evans (2:46:12.5) and Takamoto Katsuta (2:46:29.2).

"We are glad we are here in one piece and that was the only goal for today," said Rovanpera.

The drivers had a hard day tackling the frustrating 31.04 km Sleeping Warrior stretch which was marred by the evening rains, making the racing conditions worse.

The cars went off-road in the rocky sections, some wheels spinned while other vehicles skidded off to the nearby bushes.

Poor visibility due to the overcast weather hampered performance by the speedsters in the loop at the morning and this was worsened when the pregnant skies finally gave birth in the afternoon.

"It's not Sleeping Warrior, it's Sleeping Hell! Some parts are extremely slippery and we hit a tree," Jourdan Serderidis of M-Sport Ford Puma lamented.

Thierry Neuville had uncontrollable wheel spin in the opening round of the loop before going off road in the second round in the afternoon.

"It's a hell of a stage - if you are not in the car you cannot describe the conditions," stated Neuville who retired on Friday but resumed the competition under penalties at the weekend.

Kalle Rovanpera from Finland navigated by Jonne Halttunen driving Toyota Yaris crosses a river at Soysambu Ranch during WRC Safari Rally Kenya 2023 event on June 24, 2023.[Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Former world champion Ott Tanak had his windscreen covered in mud and had to race most of the section through guess work.

"It was so muddy that I ran out of washer fluid so I had no visibility for the last 20 km," Tanak said.

Both Katsuta and Pierre Louis Loubet (Ford Puma) went off road while Esapekka Lappi (Hyundai), Evans and Oliver Solberg (Skoda Fabia) were slowed down by punctures which they had to eventually change.

"Sometimes you are not in control, the car was just going everywhere because of the mud and the water," Katsuta said.

Lappi, who was forced into retirement, said: "I have never experienced anything like this before. When you see the puddles and mud, you brake like absolutely everything and then you see if you survive."

Dani Sordo added: "It was really slippery in some places with a lot of muddy sections. In the really fast corners the car was completely sideways with no control.

"The conditions were really difficult, it was like ice - amazing. This rally is on another level."

At the same time, George Vassilakis and Kenya's Aakif Virani were slapped with penalties for being late in the loop at the Time Control by a minute and eight minutes respectively.

Kenya's champion Karan Patel was fined Sh155,000 for not complying with World motorsports governing body FIA standards in the championship.

The final day today will see the drivers cover other six stages including Malewa 1 (8.33 km), Oserian 1 (18.33 km), Hell's Gate 1 (10.53 km), Malewa 2 (8.33 km), Oserian 2 (18.33 km) and the Hell's Gate 2 (Wolf Power Stage) (10.53 km).

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