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Fri 29 Mar 2024

FRIDAY MIDDAY: Rovanperä dominates morning loop in Kenya

Kalle Rovanperä claimed a clean sweep of stage wins on Friday morning to propel his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 into the lead of Safari Rally Kenya.

The world title-winning Finn ended the day’s opening Loldia test appearing visibly frustrated, complaining of excessive understeer despite posting the benchmark time. What he didn’t know at that time was that every single one of his FIA World Rally Championship peers reported the same feeling.

After edging Hyundai rival by 1.4s Esapekka Lappi through Geothermal, it was on the rugged tracks of Kedong where Rovanperä really made his mark. Quicker than anybody else by 11.1s in 31km, the 23-year-old had stretched his lead to 15.5s over Lappi before reaching the mid-leg service.

“This (Kedong) stage has been really nice every year, and now we went in the opposite direction with different pace notes,” he said. “Even with the new notes, I wanted to commit to it and it was nice. We had a really big push and I'm happy with the time.”

Ott Tänak labelled his i20 N “undriveable” after the first stage of the day, but the Estonian was in better spirits by the end of the loop. He ended just 1.3s adrift of team-mate Lappi in third overall.

“It can be very sketchy,” was Tänak’s description of the high-speed compressions. “At least the car is running okay, no drama for us.”

Takamoto Katsuta, twice a podium finisher in Kenya, has made it clear that he plans to get through this opening day drama-free by taking minimal risks. It was an approach that worked well for the GR Yaris man during the morning as he held fourth, albeit 24.5sec back from Tänak.

Katsuta’s colleague Elfyn Evans was just 1.8s behind him and struggled with the balance of his Toyota, while championship leader Thierry Neuville sat another 4.8s behind after enduring a morning to forget.

Neuville had led overnight thanks to his victory on Thursday’s Kasarani super special stage but he slipped down the order after taking rear-right tyre damage in SS3. The flailing rubber punched a hole in his Hyundai’s bodywork, forcing the Belgian and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe to don goggles and dust masks for Kedong.

“Luckily we had the masks and the windscreen somehow stayed clean,” he said afterwards. “It was okay, better than I thought.”

M-Sport Ford Puma duo Adrien Fourmaux and Grégoire Munster completed with no problems in seventh and eighth respectively, while Gus Greensmith held ninth and led the WRC2 category comfortably following tyre troubles for Oliver Solberg. Greek privateer Jourdan Serderidis completed the top 10 at the day’s midpoint.