Under par Rovanpera pulls clear of Evans at Safari Rally Kenya

An off colour Kalle Rovanpera successfully consolidated his position at the top of the Safari Rally Kenya timesheets across Saturday’s six special stages to lead Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Elfyn Evans by 40.3 seconds.
Under par Rovanpera pulls clear of Evans at Safari Rally Kenya

Rovanpera extended his overnight lead in the morning loop by 4.8 seconds to 19.4 seconds and pulled off the same trick in the afternoon even though the young Finn having to contend with an upset stomach. The real damage to Evans’ hopes of reeling in the current World Rally Championship points leader came on the day’s penultimate test – 'Elmenteita' – as Rovanpera cleared it a whole 11 seconds faster.

It was a remarkable turn of speed by Rovanpera, particularly given the variable conditions: a rain shower, sections that resembled a mud bath, and deep tracks filled with water added to the challenge. The day-ending test was much the same and again Rovanpera revelled in it, his effort 13.2 seconds superior than the Welshman’s.

"I don't know even myself [how we did it]," said Rovanpera. "We were basically off two times in the water - we couldn't keep the car in a straight line and I couldn't see anything. I am happy to be here."

A windscreen washer issue on Evan's Toyota admittedly played into Rovanpera's hands, the wipers failing to clear the thick film of mud to provide him with a clear view of the road ahead. "I'm obviously happy to be here," said Evans, "but it was really slow." He experienced visibility issues on the previous test - 'Elmenteita' - and lost ground towards the end of 'Sleeping Warrior' first time over it with a puncture.

Takamoto Katsuta provisionally makes it a Toyota one-two-three with one day of Safari Rally Kenya to play out. He inherited the position following some late drama involving Thierry Neuville on the day's closing stage. 13.9km in, his engine cut out and although he got it fired up and started moving again, he ended up hitting a tree and stopping for good.

It was a troubled day for the Belgian up to that point: on Saturday's opener he caught a tree branch on a fast left-hander and cracked the windscreen. Dust seeping into the cockpit added to his and Martijn Wydaeghe's woes.   

Their exit depleted an already threadbare Rally1 field, leaving last year's Safari Rally winner Sebastien Ogier in fourth and Hyundai Motorsport protege Oliver Solberg in fifth. Solberg - the son of 2003 World champion Petter - survived a heart stopping moment on the first test. He ran over a huge rock that had been pulled out onto the middle of the road and bent the suspension. 

Meanwhile, the bad run of luck from Friday continued into Saturday at M-Sport Ford as both Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith retired at the end of stages eight and nine respectively. Fourmaux punctured and took the decision to stop and change the wheel on his Puma Rally1 17.4km into ‘Soysamba’ but, not long after, suspension damage forced him to withdraw.

For Team Principal Richard Millener, the mechanical failure was hard to stomach. “Adrien stopped as we would have expected, but that’s maybe caused some damage to the suspension,” he said. “He tried his best to fix it but the damage was just too much.”

As for Greensmith, cooling issues brought about by cutting the inside of a right-hander and rolling eventually spelled the end of his involvement. He did get going again after putting his Puma on its side, albeit with no windscreen that necessitated the need for him and co-driver Jonas Andersson to don a pair of goggles to save their eyes from dust and dirt.

They resorted to kicking the glass out to escape from the car as marshals stood by just metres away. This was despite the hybrid light on the car glowing green to indicate it was safe for them to approach. A video of Greensmith - who has been working on the car with mechanics back at the service park - has since appeared on social media of him clearly irate at the lack of help.

“Gus had a low-speed roll which has caused quite a lot of panel damage,” added Millener. “We are going to look at trying to fix it but that will be quite a big job. It has been quite a disappointing morning for those two guys – a tough rally for them two guys. A tough weekend for us continues.”

There was some cheer in the British squad, however, as Craig Breen re-joined on Saturday under restart rules and despite carrying what he labelled “a small issue”, made it back to the overnight halt in sixth.

The Irishman will be aiming to collect some points from Sunday’s Power Stage as will Sebastien Loeb who limped through the final kilometres of the last stage with a front left puncture and suspension damage, and Hyundai’s Ott Tanak after his i20 N Rally1 car came to a halt on the final morning stage with a broken propshaft. 

Prior the mechanical failure on 'Sleeping Warrior' that forced Tanak to park up when his car began to make a clunking sound, the 2019 World Champion had inched to within 4.9 seconds of Katsuta. They were unable to carry out repairs as the area in question he needed to access was closed in.

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