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Fri 23 Jun 2023

Fighting Ogier leads Safari after challenging morning loop

Sébastien Ogier led Safari Rally Kenya on Friday morning as Toyota Gazoo Racing's GR Yaris cars locked out the leading trio on Africa’s unremitting roads.

The Frenchman, who competes on a part-time basis, held a slender 2.5sec lead over team-mate Kalle Rovanperä as the Japanese manufacturer squad, which claimed a 1-2-3-4 finish in 2022 showed it had lost none of its dominance over Kenya’s rugged speed tests.

Ogier won the tight and twisty Loldia opener and extended his advantage into double figures with a top-two time at Geothermal. His efforts were undone in the super-fast Kedong stage, however, when a hybrid unit fault cost almost 10sec and allowed Rovanperä back into the fight.

“I had no hybrid for the whole stage,” Ogier revealed. “We are in the lead and it's still a very long weekend ahead. Of course it's very disappointing when you lose time and you cannot do anything, but I think we can be happy with our loop for sure and we hope that our car will be 100 per cent again for the afternoon.”

Elfyn Evans completed the Toyota top three a hefty 17.0sec further back. The Welshman’s cautious policy was clear to see: “There are quite a lot of big stones already being pulled out and it feels quite soft in places. I knew I wasn't taking enough risks,” he said.

A mere 1.7sec in arrears and holding fourth overall was Thierry Neuville, the Belgian one of several drivers to feel the full force of Kenya’s punishing power. Both he and i20 N partner Esapekka Lappi dropped time with tyre damage, as did Ott Tänak, who stopped to change a wheel on his M-Sport Ford Puma in Kedong.

Takamoto Katsuta damaged a steering arm on his GR Yaris and was forced to carry out roadside repairs before the morning’s finale. He trailed Neuville by 7.9sec and headed Lappi, the pacesetter in Geothermal, by 12.0sec.

Pre-rally pace note tweaks did not play to Dani Sordo’s favour, and instead made the Hyundai man drive too cautiously in some high-speed sections. Already lumbered with a 10sec penalty for jump-starting Thursday’s super special stage, seventh was the best Sordo could manage.

Pierre-Louis Loubet was hindered by what he described as a “setting” issue which left his Puma down on power in the day’s opener. He recovered to hold eighth ahead of team-mate Tänak, whose SS4 wheel change was compounded by a hybrid fault and cost around two minutes.

Oliver Solberg, who is not nominated to score WRC2 points this week, completed the top 10 in. Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo.

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