Rovanpera slotted into first position on the final Friday stage – the second pass over Kedong, the longest of the iconic event at 31.25km – when reigning WRC champion Sebastien Ogier lost time to a tyre swap. That dropped him five places to sixth.

Many expected the wildlife-filled savannah to throw up any number of challenges but Rovanpera admitted back at service in Naivasha it had exceeded his expectations.  “I have not experienced anything like that before,” said the WRC points leader. “Last year we didn’t have this much soft sections [fesh fesh] than today, so it was something a bit new. I think it [relief] was the thing we all felt today after we managed to get through,” the Finn added.

Evans succeeded in prizing the lead off Ogier on SS4 by completing it 9.3 seconds quicker, his case helped by the front air intake on Ogier’s GR Yaris Rally1 being blocked by soil and dust. But the Welshman lost the initiative as soon as he had gained it, a soft right-rear puncture 7km from the end of SS5 – Loldia 2 – punting him back to third before losing out to Rovanpera on SS6 Geothermal - the penultimate stage.

Despite this, with one stage left to play out, Toyota provisionally filled the first four positions - but the Safari Rally was not done just yet. Second-placed Takamoto Katusta's measured approach up to then was paying off handsomely having started proceedings in eighth, however, he slipped to fourth after getting caught up in the dust of Craig Breen who was slowed by steering failure.

“Already in the beginning we had a lot of dust from Craig and some corner I couldn’t see anything because of the forest and dust stayed there, and there were big rocks on the straight where Craig went off and I had to almost stop,” said Katsuta, whose misfortune allowed Hyundai Motorsport's Ott Tanak to creep into the podium places. “Hopefully we can get some time back, if we don’t get it it’s not fair. So hopefully we can get something.”

2019 champion Tanak was slowed on the morning loop by the top of the gear lever in his I20 N Rally1 snapping. Some make-shift repairs that involved using a section of the wheel brace to move up and down the 'box got him to service where mechanics set about fitting a suitable replacement part.

His Hyundai colleagues Thierry Neuville and Oliver Solberg are fourth and sixth respectively. Neuville had experienced engine power issues on SS4 when sand and dust worked its way into the car's air filter and completely blocked it. 

An animated Solberg, meanwhile, has made finishing round six of the World Rally Championship the objective despite encoutering arguably the worst of the condtions due to his low road position. He experienced a similar drop in power to Neuville on SS4 and described many of the sections as "the roughest ride of my life".

So far it has been a rotten Safari Rally Kenya for the M-Sport Ford squad; only the Puma Rally1 car driven by Gus Greensmith completed the initial six stages as Sebastien Loeb, Adrien Fourmaux and Craig Breen all bowed out.

Loeb was the first casualty at the end of SS4 when an engine fire forced the nine-time WRC winner to pull over and park up. He had been sitting fifth overall prior to his Puma losing all power. “For sure, it’s frustrating to stop now after three Friday stages because the feeling was good, the car was good,” said the Frenchman, who will rejoin the action on Saturday under current restart rules.

“We made a good job to prepare, to have some good notes and be ready, so it’s a bit frustrating to retire on the road section like this. But the rally is really tough, and really rough also, but that’s how it is and there is nothing more we can do,” he added.

Loeb’s countryman Adrien Fourmaux traversed “a proper Kenya” opening loop back in eighth having been as high as fourth in the early exchanges. He was happy with the safety-first approach he was taking only for it to unravel second time over ‘Loldia’. He surrendered more than four minutes to a transmission-related issue and having inspected the rear of his car concluded the problem could not be fixed.

Things went from bad to worse on the final Friday test as Breen joined them on the side-lines. The Irishman stopped 6.1km into the stage but managed to get going again before a compression on a fast section around the 18km mark sent the car off line where it collided with a sizeable rock.