Safari Rally 2024: World champ Rovapera sweeps all stages to propel Toyota to the lead

Kalle Rovanpera navigated by Jonne Haltunnen driving Toyota Yaris jumps past Miti Mbili at Kedong Ranch during WRC Safari Rally Kenya in Naivasha on March 29, 2024. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Reigning world champion Kalle Rovanpera clocked 1:16:22.6 to register a clean sweep in all the six stages of Day Two of the WRC Safari Rally Kenya that cruised through Loldia (19.17km), Geothermal (13.12) and Kedong (31.50km), with a similar repeat in the afternoon totaling 127km.

His feat, which saw him open a 56.9 second lead at the top, eclipsed rivals Hyundai from the leaderboard, propelling Toyota into the Safari Rally Kenya lead with a top three finish.

"I’m happy with my performance for the day! I would have loved to go even faster but the conditions are very rough, they are going deeper with every car. Despite the good run, we had an understeering problem in some sections. We shouldn't have struggled,” Rovanpera told Standard Sports.

The tough day was characterised with light showers in the afternoon, various penalties, tyre punctures, understeering, broken transmissions, and other mechanical gremlins.

Hyundai’s Ott Tanak was the greatest casualty of the day after he was forced out of the competition when he hit a rock and broke his steering wheel after just 3.2km of Loldia 2 stage.

The impact threw Tanak’s car into a bank on the outside. The Estonian now joins the growing list of drivers, including Kenyans Samman Vohra and Nikhil Sachania, who are now out of the rally after their car suffered extensive damages.

Tanak’s woes temporarily gifted Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta (1:17:23.4), who is taking low risk strategy in the rally, with a second-place sojourn, but the Japanese was relegated to third by his teammate Elfyn Evans (1:17:19.5) on the last lap.

 "It’s still not a good feeling for me, we are really struggling with the balance. It’s still not what we expected after the shakedown in Loldia,” stated Evans who struggled with a left rear slow puncture in Loldia 1.

Katsuta remarked after his third place finish: “Today was not a big push. I had a careful drive, but it was okay. We still have a long way to go.”

Hyundai had started the day on a very rough note with their marksman Thierry Neuville, who was on the lead after winning Kasarani Super Special Stage on Thursday, taking a rear-right tyre damage in Geothermal 1.

Neuville hit a bank on the outside of a corner, knocking the rear right wheel off the rim. The flailing rubber punched a hole in his Hyundai’s bodywork, forcing the Belgian and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe to don goggles and dust masks for Kedong stage.

African Rally Champion Karan Patel was the best placed Kenyan at 14th after he clocked 1:30:29.4 on the day, but Carl Tundo (1:38:25.0) dropped to 17th after he suffered a puncture in Geothermal 1 which delayed his antics. Aakif Virani and Tundo were also penalized for late arrivals in Loldia 2.

Meanwhile, Kenyan duo of Andrew Muiruri and his navigator Edward Njoroge were fined 500 Euros (Sh72,000) for breaching FIA rules and regulations in the contest. They were found in possession of two tyres not recommended by the world motorsports governing body.

Today, six more stages totaling 160km will be covered by the drivers. The sections include Soysambu 1 and 2 (29.32kms), Elmenteita 1 and 2 (15.08 kms) and Sleeping Warrior 1 and 2 (36.08kms). The drivers will cruise through the stretches in the morning before making a similar repeat in the afternoon.

Soysambu Conservancy has a 3km spectator zone at the start followed by the deceptively tricky run through savannah woodlands, rocky outcrops and a sweeping finish over another large spectator area.

Elmenteita has a naturally beautiful lake on the backdrop, good for Live TV coverages to capture the action in its picturesque glory. This section presents iconic imagery with its grey volcanic dust, lush lakeside vegetation and the promise of a clear blue sky reflected on the lake surface dotted with flocks of pink flamingos.

Sleeping Warrior crisscrosses the natural plains while weaving around the numerous hills that dot this part of the Stage. It is actually the longest stage of the rally with all the challenges of the area thrown in to await the Safari spirit in earnest. The last 7km of the stage runs through a mulberry farm which means narrow, fast, rapid brows and dips terminating close to the old pipeline road that connects Gilgil to the area.

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