Rovanpera takes first Safari Rally Kenya win in Toyota 1-2-3-4

Kalle Rovanpera has won the gruelling Safari Rally Kenya, leading home a Toyota Gazoo Racing 1-2-3-4 and increasing his advantage in the standings over Hyundai Motorsport's Thierry Neuville to 65 points.
Rovanpera takes first Safari Rally Kenya win in Toyota 1-2-3-4

The talented Finn - who went one better than his father Harri, who finished the same event second overall two decades ago - took no chances across Sunday’s morning and afternoon loop of stages to reach the finish with 52.8 seconds in hand over the identical GR Yaris Rally1 supermini driven by Elfyn Evans.

It brings the 21-year-old’s victory count this season so far to four following on from his successes on the snow and ice-covered roads of Sweden back in February, the asphalt roads of April’s Croatia Rally and the first all-gravel round of the 2022 campaign at Rally de Portugal in mid-May.

Not only that, but the Japanese marque's domination of the African counter has opened up a sizeable 82-point buffer over Hyundai in the manufacturers' championship. "It feels great,” said Rovanpera at the end of the Power Stage.

“I have to say, this was the hardest rally I have ever done and to be honest we just have to thank the team. To have four cars like this with no issues – it is clearly the strongest and fastest car. The team did a fantastic job.”

For his part, Evans never asked too many questions of Rovanpera, conscious of the fact he had to score some much-needed points after poor results at Rallye Monte-Carlo, Rally Sweden and last month’s Rally Italia Sardegna that has left the Welshman very much on the back foot in the title race.

"I think it was clear today what was going on, but we weren't quite on it with a few things on Saturday," said Evans. "It's been a great weekend and this one's really for the team to be honest. If we can secure this result then it's hats-off to them - everybody else has struggled and we have come through."

Takamoto Katsuta survived a suspected gearbox oil leak to seal third place and secure back-to-back Safari Rally Kenya podium finishes. It was also the first trip to the winners' enclosure for his Northern Irish co-driver Aaron Johnston who was jettisoned in to help Katsuta at the end of last year before extending his stay for 2022.

Outgoing Safari Rally Kenya champion Sebastien Ogier had led the rally with one Friday stage to go only for a puncture - and mid-stage wheel change - to knock the 8-time champion out of the running. "Without the puncture it would have been different, but that's part of the game," the Frenchman conceded. "Toyota Gazoo Racing has provided an amazingly strong car for the toughest three days of the season and I want to congratulate them."

Thierry Neuville salvaged maximum points on Sunday's Power Stage - some consolation for the bulldog spirit he showed on what was another extremely difficult weekend for the Belgian after car troubles and human error kept him out of the running for silverware. On his first visit to the savanna, Craig Breen was the highest-placed M-Sport Ford driver in sixth with Sebastien Loeb in eighth.

Oliver Solberg soldiered to the end - but it wasn't without its drama. Notional times were awarded to crews on Sunday’s opener – ‘Oserian’ – after his i20 N Rally1 ingested volcanic soil and cut out on the spot. After repeated attempts to get going again, he jumped out of the car and with help from co-driver Elliott Edmondson, managed to unblock the air filter. However, the position of the car in the middle of the road left organisers with little option but to red flag the stage and divert all remaining crews to SS15.

The fesh fesh soil at the start of ‘Oserian’ proved problematic for Solberg's team-mate Ott Tanak as he ground to a standstill so that the low-hanging dust could settle before the road came back into view.

The drama continued for the pair on SS17: Tanak had to throw in the towel at the end of it because of power steering failure and after running wide, spectators came to Solberg's rescue, clearing the windscreen of dirt as the wipers had stopped working.

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