Sat 18 Jun 2022

Rally rewind: Kenya 2021

It was back. Nineteen years after Safari Rally Kenya last graced the FIA World Rally Championship, the epic adventure returned. And how. Just days away from the 2022 edition, we reflect on a marvellously chaotic encounter 12 months ago.

1. Ogier grabs unlikely win
When Sébastien Ogier limped into Friday’s mid-leg service after a brutal morning on the southern shores of the Great Rift Valley’s Lake Naivasha, victory was a distant thought in the Frenchman’s mind.

A broken oil canister in his Toyota Yaris’ rear suspension left him trailing more than two minutes off the lead in seventh.

Saturday’s recovery netted three speed test wins to climb to third, but Thierry Neuville was still 75sec to the good in front. The best likely outcome for the points leader appeared to be second, with Yaris colleague Takamoto Katsuta the sandwich between him and Neuville.

Sunday changed everything. When Neuville smashed his Hyundai i20’s right rear damper on a rock, Ogier was perfectly placed to capitalise. He demoted a compliant Katsuta to win by 21.8sec and take a huge step towards his eighth world title.

Kenya might have been absent for almost two decades, but its ability to shock remained.

2. Neuville heartbreak
It was cruel misfortune for the Belgian. He had understood the punishing power of Kenya’s roads better than anyone and led for all but two stages until his premature demise.

It was the third rally in succession that Hyundai had retired from the lead with broken suspension.

“Very hard luck for us, but also for all the team,” he smiled weakly. “Three tough rally weekends in a row, and nobody deserved that. We would have deserved three victories in the last three events, but unfortunately we didn’t.”

3. Ferocious Safari decimates field
The Safari lived up to its reputation as one of the world’s iconic motorsport events. Rocky and sandy gravel tracks around Lakes Naivasha and Elmenteita proved brutal, while stunning scenery, exotic wildlife and enthusiastic locals portrayed Africa at its best.

The unremitting roads cut a swathe through the big guns in Friday’s vicious opening leg.

Elfyn Evans retired in the morning’s Kedong stage when he clipped a rock and broke the front right suspension on his Yaris. A stone smashed a suspension arm on Dani Sordo’s i20 in the same test and his car oversteered into a ditch.

Oliver Solberg suffered rear right suspension problems after going off and called it a day when a damaged roll cage added to his troubles, while Lorenzo Bertelli parked his Ford Fiesta with a coolant leak.

Kalle Rovanperä briefly snatched top spot from Neuville but his hopes were wrecked when his Yaris became trapped in deep dust and it was towed off the track.

4. Torrential storm
‘I bless the rains down in Africa’ goes the lyric in Toto’s classic 1980s track. Some did and some didn’t as a downpour in Saturday’s closing Sleeping Warrior stage caused bedlam.

The dusty roads quickly turned to mud and Pirelli’s hard compound tyres carried by all offered minimal grip in conditions akin to ice.

Surviving was the name of the game and second-placed Katsuta almost didn’t, skidding off to yield 20sec to a wide-eyed Neuville. “I’m not very emotional and not very much stressed, but I have to say I was,” Neuville admitted.

It all went wrong for Tänak. Caught in the storm, his i20’s windscreen misted up and he stopped to wipe it clear. He dropped more than a minute to Katsuta and instead of challenging for second, the Estonian found himself relegated to fourth.

5. Fiesta joy
M-Sport Ford’s Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux reaped the rewards of a risk-free strategy. Greensmith bagged a career-best fourth while Fourmaux celebrated his maiden top-level stage win. The pair were split by just a tenth at the end.

• Full coverage from Safari Rally Kenya will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park

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