GRR

2024 Rally Kenya | 5 talking points

01st April 2024
Damien Smith

Kalle Rovanperä remained calm and measured on a characteristically wild Safari Rally last weekend to lead Toyota to its first win in the 2024 World Rally Championship. Hyundai triumphed in Monte-Carlo and Sweden, but Toyota has always revelled in its status as the master manufacturer of the tough and rocky stages in Kenya and so it proved once again. Here are the main talking points from the weekend.

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1. Perfect Friday key for Rovamperä

Winning all six stages of the opening leg set up Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Haltunnen for a dominant victory in Africa. The pair were leading by more than a minute at the end of the day, while their main rivals all hit trouble. Double world champion Rovanperä consolidated his position on Saturday, the toughest leg, winning the longest stage by nearly 25 seconds, and then cruised on Sunday for a winning margin over his Toyota team-mate Takamoto Katsuta of a comfy 1 minute 37.8 seconds

“It’s special to be able to win the Safari for the second time,” said Rovanperä who also won this WRC ‘major’ in 2022. “This event is so tough and it’s also a legendary one for Toyota: we have always been good here and we are still continuing that record. Like they say in Africa, the car in front is always a Toyota! You cannot do a better Safari than what we did, with no issues and clever driving.”

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2. Toyota maintains stunning Safari record

After a disappointing start to the season, Toyota always looked good to score its first win of the WRC season on what historically has been its strongest event on the calendar. This was its fourth consecutive victory in Kenya since the Safari returned to the WRC in 2021, and its 12th overall. Katsuta also drove with maturity to deliver a team one-two with two stage wins on Saturday, despite a pair of punctures on the Sleeping Warrior test that morning. The Japanese driver also excels on the Safari: this was his third podium in four outings on the event, which he also finished second on in 2021.

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3. Evans maintains title challenge

As Adrien Fourmaux scored an encouraging second consecutive podium for M-Sport Ford, Elfyn Evans endured another tough run in his Toyota. As Rovanperä has only committed to a part-season this year to pursue other motor sport interests, Welshman Evans will never have a better chance of landing a WRC crown, but has yet to get off the mark in terms of wins in 2024. Still, he bagged another decent haul of crucial points to keep him within touching distance of the championship lead.

Evans ran as high as second, but three punctures deflated his hopes of challenging Rovanperä. Yet fourth overall and third on the Sunday, with a fifth-best time on the Power Stage climax, bagged him 16 points. That leaves him just six points behind title leader Thierry Neuville with 10 rounds still to come. If you can’t win, consistent points scoring is vital for any championship challenge. Evans will want to stamp his mark on the season as soon as possible, but for now, he’s kept himself right in the fight.

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4. Tough weekend for Hyundai

The Korean manufacturer might have won the first two rounds, but the rocky African stages proved too much for the i20 N Rally1. Neuville salvaged fifth overall to maintain his title lead, following fuel pressure problems on Saturday and heavy rear suspension damage on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Rally Sweden winner Esapekka Lappi suffered not one but two transmission failures, the first on Friday, the second on Sunday. In between, there were also punctures and a double bird strike that broke his windscreen.

Ott Tänak was also in the wars. He crashed out of second place on Friday, but at least scored well on the final day when he returned to the rally to be fastest across the final set of stages. That was still only good enough for eighth overall though, behind the top two WRC2 runners.

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5. Class win for Brit Greensmith

Gus Greensmith battled illness to score his first WRC2 class win of the season in his Skoda Fabia RS Rally2. The former M-Sport Rally1 driver struggled with flu-like symptoms on Friday, but somehow kept himself together to finish sixth overall. His nearest challenger Oliver Solberg was the fastest WRC2 runner over 11 of the 19 stages but still fell short of his rival by 1min 23.1sec. The Norwegian’s Power Stage victory at least allowed him to extend his title advantage.

“I don’t know what I’m more proud of: not shi*ting myself on Friday or winning the rally!” quipped Greensmith. “It’s been a long week but I’m really, really happy. Thank you to the [Toksport] team this weekend, they’ve been perfect.”

The WRC continues later this month with Rally Croatia on April 18-21.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

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