Sat 24 Jun 2023

Sharp-eyed Ogier consolidates Safari Rally lead

Sébastien Ogier maintained his control over Safari Rally Kenya despite sustaining tyre damage on a brutal Saturday morning made even more challenging by overnight rain.

Downpours in the early hours of this penultimate leg reduced some sections of the special stages near Lake Elmenteita to mud baths, catching out some of the FIA World Rally Championship’s leading lights.

Ogier romped to the benchmark time in the opening Soysambu test, outpacing second-placed Toyota Gazoo Racing partner Kalle Rovanperä by a whopping 7.6sec despite nursing rear-left tyre damage on his GR Yaris.

Consolidation was the priority for eight-time world champion Ogier at Elmenteita and Sleeping Warrior, however, where he gave away a handful of seconds to Rovanperä. The Frenchman reached the respite of service still carrying a 22.1sec advantage, only seven-tenths of a second worse off than when he started the day.

“Some sections were very slippery and I was very cautious to be honest,” he conceded. “On the last section [of Sleeping Warrior] with the stones it's so easy to damage something.”

Rovanperä won two of the morning’s three speed tests but was adamant that no risks were being taken. He led the championship coming into this seventh round and is on course to strengthen his points lead.

"I think we could push a bit more but for sure Seb is pushing a lot for this win,” said the Finn. “In our case we need to think about the championship also, because the guys in the championship fight are much more behind us and the good points are coming.”

The biggest drama of the morning centred on Elfyn Evans, also driving a Toyota. The water splash issues which plagued the Japanese marque at the previous round in Italy reappeared with vengeance, briefly halting the Welshman’s car towards the end of Soysambu.

Leaking around one minute, Evans slipped to fourth overall behind Hyundai’s flying Finn Esapekka Lappi. His troubles were compounded by a slow rear puncture in the final stage and he languishes 49.7sec behind the Finn going into the repeated afternoon loop.

Just 5.5sec in arrears was Evans’ colleague Takamoto Katsuta, who successfully bridged the gap between himself and the i20 N of sixth-placed Dani Sordo.

M-Sport Ford duo Ott Tänak and Pierre-Louis Loubet, both recovering from disappointing Fridays, held seventh and eighth respectively. Loubet ran wide in the mud and dropped time having to reverse. Thierry Neuville, who retired with suspension damage on Friday, also spun. 

Grégoire Munster continues to lead WRC2 but the Fiesta youngster remains under pressure from Kajetan Kajetanowicz, who rounds out the top 10 driving a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo.


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