Kalle Rovanpera leads Neuville after chaotic Saturday morning stages

Kalle Rovanpera leads Neuville after chaotic Saturday morning stages

Kalle Rovanpera extended his lead over Thierry Neuville in the Safari Rally Kenya, avoiding the chaos that hit his rivals after Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta suffered punctures.

Kalle Rovanpera is edging closer to the Safari Rally Kenya win as he managed to take a commanding lead of 1 minute 27.9 seconds on Saturday morning. However, his Toyota teammates encountered troubles in the challenging terrain along with rivals Ott Tanak and Esapekka Lappi.

Saturday dawned with a dramatic run through the 29.32-kilometer Soysambu test. Rainfall over the night threatened to bring about slippery conditions although the day started off mostly dry.

Evans’s and Takamoto’s GR Yaris’ Pirelli tyres suffered damage, as the overnight Toyota 1-2-3 lead was similarly wiped out. Evans suffered a puncture in Soysambu while Katsuta encountered the same issue in Sleeping Warrior.

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville moved up to second place overall as the Toyota duo dropped to fifth and third, respectively. Neuville was on a mission to get back on track after experiencing tyre issues on Friday and his only genuine complaint was a big bump towards the final stretch of the dusty Sleeping Warrior.

“It was a good run, but we were told that the road wouldn’t be modified after recce,” said Neuville. “We had a big moment. They put big stones in the middle of the road.”

However, this was not the case with his i20 N teammates Esapekka Lappi and Ott Tanak, who both returned to action on Friday following their retirements. Tanak had to rely on hand gestures from co-driver Martin Jarveoja in the next test due to an intercom malfunction and his decision to stop over in SS8 to fix a loose bonnet pin. Lappi, on the other hand, suffered a pair of tyre punctures.

“The organisers are not doing a good job,” said Lappi. “They promised us that nothing will change, but they changed the cuts after the recce which is really shit.”

Rovanpera’s run of six straight stage victories came to an end on the stage as he chose to take it slow in order to hold onto his lead. Dust from the delayed Evans hindered the Finn, who finished in 5.2s.

“It’s situations like that where you can do time by just driving clean,” said Rovanpera. “Incredibly tricky stage. I felt I took care of the tyres and [was] not pushing hard when I could.”

Adrien Fourmaux moved up to fourth in his M-Sport Ford Puma, 27.7 seconds behind Katsuta, while Grégoire Munster retired the sister car after the SS8 due to a broken rear suspension. After arriving at the stage conclusion, Munster and co-driver Louis Louka attempted a repair but were eventually forced to call it quits for the day.

Gus Greensmith maintained his lead in the WRC2 class over his rival Oliver Solberg in the Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 as the two placed sixth and seventh overall while Jourdan Serderidis, Kajetan Kajetanowicz, and Nicolas Ciamin completed the top 10.

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