Kalle Rovanpera stretched his Safari Rally Kenya lead to more than half a minute on Saturday afternoon as wet weather conditions spiced up the penultimate leg.
On a day which troubled more of the FIA World Rally Championship’s leading drivers, Rovanpera overcame sickness worries to increase his advantage and head a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 quartet, with Elfyn Evans his nearest chaser.
Rovanpera seized the lead of the WRC’s sixth round late on Friday when teammate and early leader Sebastien Ogier stopped to change a wheel. He measured his pace over Saturday’s three morning stages and was happy to keep a watchful eye on those behind.
The afternoon loop was a completely different story. Downpours in the final pair of stages caused chaos as the dry and dusty roads turned to mud, with grip levels comparable to ice.
Rovanpera excelled in the extreme conditions despite feeling under the weather himself. He outpaced the entire the field by 11.2s on the 9.4-mile Elmenteita 2 test, before adding another 13.2s to his lead in the 19.3-mile Sleeping Warrior finale.
The 21-year-old Finn, who led the WRC standings by 55 points heading to Africa, will start Sunday’s final leg a hefty 40.3s clear at the top. With 25 points for the win and another five available for fastest time on the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage, his championship advantage only looks likely to increase.
“It was quite a big job just to stay on the road today,” said Rovanpera. “There is no grip in the mud here and sometimes there is so much water that it’s hard to get through.
“I just realized straight away it was slippery and I tried to be a bit more clever in places where I saw other drivers’ lines going wide or something. Basically, I just tried to keep it clean.
“I have not been feeling too good today,” he added. “It’s not with the stomach, but I feel I am quite tired. Hopefully tomorrow is better.”
Evans had a punctured tire on the day’s third stage and was also lucky to survive a brush with a tree on the last stage. The Welshman put the mishap down to poor visibility — the result of a broken windscreen washer motor — but ended 35.3s clear of Takamoto Katsuta in the third of the Toyotas.
Katsuta was slow out of the blocks and dropped out of second place on the day’s first stage at Soysambu. Two deflated tires and a late overshoot were the only real bumps in the road for the Japanese driver and he remains on target to claim a second consecutive Kenya podium.
Katsuta’s place in the leading trio was made possible by Thierry Neuville’s demise on the day’s final stage. The Hyundai driver grabbed a pair of early stage wins, but lost time when his i20 N Rally1 was slow to restart following a stall. His day ended just a half-mile later following an impact with a tree.
Neuville’s retirement added insult to injury for his Hyundai Motorsport squad, with Estonian driver Ott Tanak also sidelined by propshaft failure earlier in the day.
Such was the rate of attrition, Neuville will still start Sunday in fifth overall, despite receiving a 10m penalty for failing to finish the final stage.
Eight-time WRC champ Ogier was helped by the drama unfolding ahead and brought his Yaris home 1m22.7s adrift of the podium in fourth overall, while Oliver Solberg completed the top six. The Hyundai youngster incurred 1m30s in time penalties after making roadside repairs to his car’s suspension and trailed the leaders by more than 12 minutes at the end of the leg.
Craig Breen nursed a rear suspension issue but remained M-Sport Ford’s leading driver in seventh overall. The team was left depleted by retirements, with Gus Greensmith’s Puma Rally1 halted by accident damage caused by a roll and Adrien Fourmaux succumbing to broken suspension.
Puma privateer Jourdan Serderidis was eighth, followed by Kajetan Kajetanowicz’s WRC2-leading Skoda Fabia Evo. Friday retiree Sebastien Loeb climbed to 10th despite breaking a steering arm on his Ford.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Kajetan Kajetanowicz won all six stages to build a massive class lead of more than 20 minutes.
The Polish driver began the day with a 1m13.5s advantage. That quickly grew as second-placed Sean Johnston incurred an 80s penalty for leaving service late as his team prepared his Citroen C3 for the rigors of the day ahead.
The lead climbed to almost six minutes as fastest times for Kajetanowicz in the morning’s three special stages distanced Johnston, who was struggling with sickness. Another three wins on the afternoon’s repeated stages, made even more challenging by the rain, carried him further clear.
Kajetanowicz’s task was eased when Johnston retired ahead of the final test. Brake problems for a second day slowed the American’s pace before he exited, choosing to give his mechanics more time to work on engine issues before Sunday’s finale.
Johnston remains second, with more than five minutes in hand over Kenya’s Amaanraj Singh Rai, who enjoyed a strong day in his Skoda.
Sunday’s finale features three stages – each run twice for a leg total of 51.9 competitive miles – located on the southern side of Lake Naivasha. Oserian (11.14 miles) and Hell’s Gate (6.54 miles) sandwich Narasha (8.26 miles), another new test which rises from the arid floor of the Rift Valley across historic Maasai grazing lands.
The second pass through Hell’s Gate, which finishes amid stunning scenery, forms the Wolf Power Stage with bonus points on offer for drivers and manufacturers. The survivors will then return to Naivasha for the afternoon finish ceremony.
WRC Safari Rally Kenya, leading positions after Day Two, SS13
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 2h52m39.7s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +40.3s
3 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m15.6s
4 Sebastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +2m38.3s
5 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +10m59.3s
6 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +12m19.1s
7 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +18m56.1s
8 Jourdan Serderidis/Frederic Miclotte (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +25m45.6s
9 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2 leader) +27m34.7s
10 Sebastien Loeb/Isabelle Galmiche (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +33m01.0s
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