NAIVASHA: Frenchman Sebastien Ogier beat teammate Kalle Rovanpera to the podium on Sunday as the Kenya Safari Rally ended with Toyota scoring a 1-2-3-4 finish in the event for a second year running.
The eight-time world champion, now racing part-time, beat championship leader, Rovanpera of Finland by 6.7 seconds on the day Welshman Elfyn Evans finished third and Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta fourth.
The win was Ogier’s third from five starts so far this season.
Second place and third on the power stage allowed Rovanperä to extend his lead once again in the championship, which now stands at 37 points over Thierry Neuville.
However just five points covers second-placed Neuville and fifth-placed Ogier.
M-Sport driver Ott Tänak led the event after Thursday’s superspecial stage, albeit by just 0.1 seconds over Ogier, and as soon as the rally hit the wilderness Ogier’s Toyota moved to the front.
In fact first place is where Ogier would remain throughout, shadowed by Rovanperä who similarly remained second all weekend long.
A bold tire choice from Ogier, where he took just one spare as everyone else carried two, earned Ogier his break on Friday and the rest of the rally was all about mitigating the risks and protecting that advantage.
But there was an unexpected surprise in store for Ogier as his championship-chasing team-mate Rovanperä turned up the wick on Sunday’s first stage, halving his deficit to reignite the fight for the lead.
Ogier however responded superbly on the very next stage, recuperating his lost time – and half a second more – to re-establish his control on the event, despite losing his tailgate through a narrow fesh-fesh section.
That same fesh-fesh on the repeat pass of the Oserian stage would prompt a mild scare as engine performance was hampered, but it was far from terminal and Ogier went on to record a 6.7s victory over Rovanperä – the closest margin in Safari Rally history – despite a rock flicking up and breaking his windshield on the final stage.
“Unbelievable, look at that even on the power stage I got a stone on the windscreen,” a relieved Ogier said.
“It could have been a much more comfortable race for us, in terms of pace we had really good pace but a lot of misfortune. But I’m happy that we bring it home.”
Third for Evans was as good as he could have realistically hoped for after slowing for over half a minute on Saturday when his car momentarily cut out after a water-splash.
He beat Katsuta by 25.3s, meaning the Japanese missed out on a Safari Rally podium for the first time in his WRC career.
But it was a fraught weekend for Katsuta with a crash on shakedown, several wild moments, a hybrid and then a leading radiator at the end of the power stage.
Dani Sordo was the highest classified non-Toyota in fifth place, five minutes down on the rally winner but over four minutes up the road from the lead M-Sport of Tänak.
Tänak’s rally never really got going beyond his SS1 stage win, but his challenge was blunted on Friday morning with a puncture that immediately threw him out of the fight.
“Let’s see what comes, so far it’s been tricky this year,” Tänak said. “It’s all about the speed now.”
Tänak’s result means he’s now fifth overall in the championship, equal with Ogier.
Team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet came home one spot behind to equal his best result of the season so far in seventh. He was another to be beset by punctures, stopping to change two throughout the weekend just like Tänak.
Thierry Neuville meanwhile came home eighth after what was a difficult weekend for Hyundai.
Neuville was running in the top four before bolts came loose on the top mount of his suspension on Friday afternoon and forced him to retire.