Sébastien Ogier led Toyota’s 1-2 at the Safari Rally Kenya on its return to the WRC calendar after a 19-year hiatus. 21,8 seconds behind came his teammate Takamoto Katsuta, who took his first WRC podium.
Closing the top three one minute and nine seconds later was Ott Tänak who managed to save some face for his team. Besides that small victory, it was another disastrous for Hyundai with Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo defeated by a rally as beautiful as it was cruel.
His fourth victory of the season after Montecarlo, Croatia & Sardegna coupled with the abandonment of his teammate and greatest rival Elfyn Evans, have allowed Ogier to extend his lead of the standings to 133 points, 34 more than the Welshman.
The Sunday battle
Thierry Neuville started Sunday with a 57.4 second lead over Takamoto. His hopes of achieving his first victory of the year, however, vanished in that first section (SS14, Loldia) when he was knocked out of the game by a broken suspension on his i20.
At that moment, the Japanese rookie inherited first place at just 0.8 seconds ahead of Ogier; a very small challenge for a seven-time champion. Two stages later (SS16) the Frenchman was first and setting the course for glory.
Saturday: Neuville opens ground despite the downpour
Neuville started the day strong by winning his first special. From that moment on, he concentrated on managing his advantage and keeping his opponents at bay during the fast stages around Lake Elmenteita.
Having witnessed the many favourites that had succumbed to the cruelties of the road throughout the day, he avoided taking unnecessary risks. Despite playing a defensive tactic he managed to increase his lead to 57.4 seconds over Takamoto Katsuta by the end of the day.
A sudden downpour in the last 31.04 km (Sleeping Warrior), wreaked havoc at the Safari Rally. In an instant, the sandy, dusty stretches turned to mud and the hard tires skidded as if they were racing on ice.
Meanwhile, Neuville’s partner, Ott Tänak, was hot on the heels of the Japanese from Toyota, in second. Takamoto had lost 20 seconds going off track but the Estonian was not in luck as he had to stop to clean his foggy windshield.
Behind came Ogier, winner of three sections (SS9-11) on Saturday, although his best performance was yet to come. The seven-time WRC champion gave a masterclass of skill and caution under the deluge and climbed up to third place. He was already 18.1 seconds behind Katsuta.
Friday: Neuville, leader of the survivors
Neuville became the main survivor during an extreme day of racing which defeated almost half of the grid of the Safari Rally Kenya. The Belgian won three of the six stages on Friday in the vicinity of Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley.
He went to bed 18.8 seconds behind Takamoto. The Japanese finished in second place despite suffering two punctures and a mechanical problem on the last stage. Tänak came 37 seconds behind. Ogier trailed the leading trio by 1 minute and 49.4 seconds.
Evans said goodbye to the rally at the SS3 in Kedong after hitting a stone with his Yaris. In that same special, Dani Sordo followed suit when he suffered a similar crash. Oliver Solberg and Lorenzo Bertelli completed the list of abandonments.
Images of Safari Rally Kenya: Toyota Gazoo Racing.