Ogier under pressure from Toyota team-mate Rovanperä on Safari Rally Kenya

Ogier under pressure from Toyota team-mate Rovanperä on Safari Rally Kenya

Chaos late on Saturday blows the battle wide open in Kenya.

Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mates Sébastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanperä will go head-to-head for Safari Rally Kenya supremacy after Saturday’s final stage blew the victory fight wide open.

On a day when Toyota GR Yaris cars topped the timesheets in every single stage, 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.

"It's okay," Ogier insisted. "I mean, we are still in the lead so that's the most important. It's just a case of bad luck. I think none of the drivers were really waiting for [the rain] because it's not fun, it's just about surviving."

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 week. 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.

Leading positions after Saturday:
1. S Ogier / V Landais FRA Toyota GR Yaris 2h 43m 49.2s
2. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota GR Yaris +16.7s
3. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota GR Yaris +2m 23.3s
4. T Katsuta / A Johnston JPN Toyota GR Yaris +2m 40.0s
5. D Sordo / C Carrera ESP Hyundai i20 N +3m 52.3s
6. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Ford Puma +8m 38.9s

Image: Kalle Rovanperä (FIN) Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Of team TOYOTA GAZOO RACING WRT is seen during the World Rally Championship Kenya in Naivasha, Kenya on 24 June, 2023

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