A Safari of international virtue Rallying comes to Africa

June 27, 2023

Written by Chris Hosie


Image Credit: wrc.com


The WRC saw the championship battle heat up once again in Sardegna. Now the stars of the 2023 season will tackle their greatest test of the entire year. The epic adventure that is Rally Kenya.

Rovanpera came to Africa as the Championship leader with the Hyundai’s of Neuville and Lappi on a real surge of form. Evans would be looking to get his title bid back on track after some low points halls in recent events. Sebastian Ogier would also be put for redemption in Kenya. After a win was robbed from him thanks to a damp left hander in Sardegna.

The rally started on Thursday with a blast around the spectator stage at Kasarani. With Ford’s Ott Tanak taking the opening honors. Ogier and Rovanpera were behind the M-Sport Puma with Neuville ahead of Evans. The Belgian hoping to score a decent result after disasters and dramas on his previous two visits to Africa. Oliver Solberg led the pack in the WRC2 ranks and set such a pace, his Fabia passed Jourdan Serderidis like a gazelle bolting a Lion for ninth overall. Kajetan Kajetanowicz was second in class. Gregoire Munster and Martin Prokop rounded out the top four in WRC2. With Kenyan crews leading in Rally3 and Group N.

Friday was the first proper day of competition, and it would immediately highlight the toughness that has made the Safari Rally such an iconic and legendary event in the sport. Though one man was able to tame the fierce and unforgiving stages. That being 8-time world champion, Sebastian Ogier. 

He would spend the whole day building up a very impressive lead over his adversaries to end it at the head of a Toyota 1,2,3. A result one has come to expect and predict with great, almost prophetic tribal wisdom and foretelling. Given the manufacturers history and success on the event during the Group A era in the early 90s. Ogier initially lost his lead to his finish teammate thanks to a hybrid issue but regained it after a storming drive.

Rovanpera was second after a very impressive drive by the defending champion. Elfyn Evans rounded out the top three after benefiting from problems that hampered others in the top five. Taka Katsuta was also going well, finishing the day fifth overall despite clipping a tree on the days last stage and picking up a puncture.

The day saw the cars of all divisions, particularly the Rally1 contenders thrash and hop over the gravel roads like the famed wildlife inhabitants of the Kenyan countryside. The latter causing problems for a few of the top contenders. Early leader Tanak picked up a puncture on SS4 causing him to lose the lead and drop down to seventh place. The Estonian also had an awkward encounter with a small group of Gazelles. Something which just added to the challenges of the uniquely African event. He was just ahead of his Puma teammate Pierre Louis Loubet. Who had a, fairly, safe day finishing in eighth.

Esapekka Lappi was also one who came to grief on Friday. He also sustained a puncture on SS4. However, despite the tyre being shredded like a Semi Trailer being struck by a helicopter rotor, he leapt over the divots and ruts like a Wilder Beast on a panicked gallop. He would end the day in fourth place having started with a shot at a possible win. Dani Sordo was sixth at the end of the day. Exhibiting a fast yet slightly off pace run. Thanks to the pace of the leading cars up front. One Hyundai driver would not make it out of Friday unscathed, that of Thierry Neuville. He would suffer suspension failure on SS6 and put him out of contention for a possible win and valuable haul of points. He also suffered a puncture on SS3 which cost him a chance at third which he was battling Evans for.

In WRC2, Oliver Solberg held the lead in class only to lose it later in the day due to the roughness of the day's stages. This promoted Gregoire Munster to take charge of the class in his works Fiesta. With he and Kajetanowicz rounding out the top 10 overall. Moving the Rally1 Puma of Serderidis to 11th. Martin Prokop was third in class with Solberg fifth. Kenyan star Carl Tundo was an impressive third in the championship's premiere development series.

In WRC3 Diego Dominguez took the lead by days end as Kenyan star and early leader Hamza Anwar suffered problems. Group N, a class not scoring WRC points and using the older spec Subarus and Mitsubishis, was led by British driver Nikhil Sachania. Armin Kramer was also in top form. He was leading the charge in the WRC Masters Cup. 

Saturday dawned wet and muddy on the famed Safari. An overnight downpour making the stages less dusty but no less treacherous to the crews. It would prove to be a nightmare for Ott Tanak. He would have a moment during the morning as the conditions made the stages like ice. Even though Africa is not exactly the first place one thinks about when icy surfaces are posed to the mind. The Estonian also suffered a puncture on SS11 but, would end the day a respectable sixth. His teammate Loubet would be behind him in seventh. Adopting a consistent pace after his drive on Friday had apparently been interrupted by two punctures.

Saturday’s rains would produce a very rewarding harvest for the Toyota camp. The day concluding with all four cars in the top four places. In a repeat of last year's results. Ogier still had the lead. However, it had been trimmed from 28 seconds to 16 seconds thanks to a very strong drive from Rovanpera. Evans was still holding strong in third with Katsuta in fourth. In what was proving to be a very rewarding event for the young Japanese star. Especially since he crashed heavily on his third run on Thursday Shakedown. The team being rewarded for their impeccable repair efforts.

Hyundai would have a very mixed day as Lappi suffered issues with his car on SS11. He would rejoin, however, outside the points in 12th place. Sordo was still going but was unable to match the pace of the Yaris quartet in front of him. He would end the day in fifth. Neuville restarted under Super Rally on Saturday and was able to make his way back into the top 10. But was a long way behind the two leading WRC2 contender. That of new leader Kajetanowicz, the Pole taking the class lead as M-Sport’s hopes were dashed. Munster sustained a puncture and saw the top contenders in WRC2 pass him like Zebras passing one of their downed heard members.

Solberg was promoted to second in class with Prokop, Tundo, and Masters leader Kramer rounding out the top five. Munster would continue but, in a rather disheartening sixth. Dominguez was still head of the pack in WRC3 and Rally3 overall. With the Group N division, made entirely of Mitsubishis on this event, was headed by Sachania. Serderidis was still going despite being registered as 16th on the overall leaderboard.

Sunday would be the last day of the WRC’s African Adventure. However, there would still be plenty of drama amongst the top runners before the day was done. The majority of which would be found among the leading four Toyotas.

Ogier saw his lead cut by a half on the opening test of the day. With Rovanpera setting a blistering time. The Frenchman struck back on the next stage and gained double the time of his adversary. Despite losing his rear wing and boot-lid after contact with a tree. Evans too had wing issues as he had a slight disagreement with the African foliage causing him to lose time to Katsuta behind him. Back up front, the two champions were still locked in a chase for glory. Thus, setting the stage for a potentially thrilling final stage. 

The Hyundai team were still going, though it was more a mission of getting to the end and taking any opportunity offered up to them. With Sordo still holding his own in fifth place overall. Ford Had Tanak sixth place with Loubet and Serderidis still on track and the former hoping to salvage a few more points to his score card. The Ford camp was uplifted spiritually, by news from Belgium. Adrien Fourmaux, not present at the Safari due to British Championship Commitments, had taken victory on the Ypres rally.

The Rally also saw the competitors run through a stage that had dust and sand of such fineness, it’s akin to wading through Talcum Powder and exceedingly fine Flour. Yes, the drivers on Sunday had to contend with the spectacle and dreaded Feshfesh. Something that one would be expected to encounter when competing in the demanding Dakar event. This would dramatically change the order in WRC2 as Oliver Solberg lost his lead and had to settle for second as Kajetanowicz took the lead and came home at days end to win in WRC2.

Martin Prokop and Carl Tundo would round out the top four. Kramer would finish inside the top five in class and claim the Masters win. Dominguez would claim victory in WRC3 followed home by McRae Kimathi. Canadian Jason Bailey finishing in third place in WRC3 and Rally3 overall. Sachania would take victory in the Group N division 

In Rally1 the last stage saw Neuville claim the win and the bonus points that went with it. However, despite a slightly second hand looking front number and a rock to the windscreen, nothing could stop Ogier from claiming his second Safari victory. His first coming in 2021 on route to his eighth world title. The Frenchman took a historic 58th career win. As well as wining the closest Safari Rally in History. Rovanpera’s pace coupled with a few further hiccups for Ogier meant the margin of victory was just 6.7 seconds in the Frenchman’s favour 

Rovanpera was slightly gutted not to come out on top but, second allowed him to extend his lead in the World Championship to nearly 40 points. Katsuta had suffered radiator damage on the last stage but would round out the TGR quartet. Evans just hanging on in third. The rest of the Rally1 field managed to make it back to the finish after a most grueling and difficult rally for some. One of those being Loubet, who would finish in the top 10 on his first visit to the Safari.

The championship battle is still in favour of Rovanpera but, a big battle is shaping up for third. With about four drivers separated by a handful of points. The quadruple knockout means Toyota regain the advantage over Hyundai in the Manufacturers title. The gap having shrunk thanks to the Korean brands performance in Sardegna.

And with that, the African adventure comes to an end. Toyota once again showing the rest of the WRC pride who was king. Skoda doing likewise in WRC2. Some coming out at the top of the food chain while other were left to lick their wounds made by the demanding nature of this iconic event. Now the championship moves on to Rally Estonia. Where Ott Tanak will be the one to watch as he aims to regain his title bid on home turf. Will he howl like a victorious fox, or will Hyenas of Toyota have the last dominant laugh? Find out on July 20-23rd when the stars and cars of the WRC return.


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