Ogier maintains commanding lead as Safari Rally comes to bite

Frenchman Sebastien Ogier leads the Safari rally after a drama filled Saturday run through Kenya's wilderness | Photo Credit: WRC

SAFARI RALLY Ogier maintains commanding lead as Safari Rally comes to bite

Shafic Kiyaga 17:18 - 24.06.2023

Six stages are to be run on Sunday’s finale features three stages - each run twice - covering both sides of Lake Naivasha.

Safari Rally Kenya witnessed another day of gripping action as Sébastien Ogier held on to his lead despite facing tyre damage and treacherous conditions on Saturday.

The morning leg became even more daunting with heavy rain overnight, turning sections of the special stages near Lake Elmenteita into mud baths that caught several top contenders off guard.

The Eight time world champion showcased his skill and determination by setting an impressive benchmark time in the opening Soysambu test.

Despite nursing a rear-left tyre damage on his Toyota Yaris, the eight-time world champion outclassed his teammate Kalle Rovanperä by a whopping 7.6 seconds.

However, consolidation became the primary goal for Ogier during the Elmenteita and Sleeping Warrior stages, where he conceded a few seconds to Rovanperä, reaching the mid-morning service with a 22.1-second advantage.

“Some sections were very slippery and I was very cautious to be honest,” he conceded. “On the last section [Sleeping Warrior] with the stones it's so easy to damage something.”

Ogier looked set to end Saturday’s leg comfortably in front of his championship-leading colleague, the Frenchman happy to measure his pace and keep a watchful eye on those behind after overcoming tyre damage in SS8.

But a sudden downpour in the closing 31.04km Sleeping Warrior caused chaos. The dry and dusty roads quickly turned to mud and offered minimal grip in conditions akin to ice.

Ogier, the last of the of the Rally1 cars into the stage, was perhaps hit harder by the conditions than any of his rivals, limping to the finish line with two slow punctures.

It meant the Frenchman's advantage was sliced in half after conceding more than 15sec and he will start Sunday’s six-stage finale just 16.7sec clear at the top.

Rovanperä, won two of the morning's three speed tests but emphasized the importance of not taking unnecessary risks with one eye on the championship.

Considering the substantial points lead he held over his rivals, Rovanperä aimed to strike a balance between speed and securing valuable championship points.

"I think we could push a bit more but for sure Seb is pushing a lot for this win,” said the Finn.

“In our case we need to think about the championship also, because the guys in the championship fight are much more behind us and the good points are coming.”

There was more drama in the battle for the final podium spot after Esapekka Lappi, who held the place until SS12, retired his Hyundai i20 N with suspected propshaft failure.

Elfyn Evans inherited the position before being passed by Takamoto Katsuta, although the Welshman fared better in the wet weather conditions and moved back in front. 16.7sec split the Toyota-driving duo at close of play,

Lappi’s demise, coupled with Thierry Neuville’s Friday retirement, means that Hyundai’s hopes now rest on Dani Sordo’s shoulders.

The Spaniard trailed Evans by 1min 12.3sec to hold fifth overnight with Ott Tänak almost five minutes behind.

In the WRC2 category, Grégoire Munster remained in the lead, but Kajetan Kajetanowicz, driving a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo, kept the pressure on, rounding out the top 10 overall.

Six stages are to be run on Sunday’s finale features three stages - each run twice - covering both sides of Lake Naivasha.

Last run in 2021, Malewa (9.0km) is back on the itinerary and opens proceedings on the fourth and final day. Up next are Oserian (18.33km) and Hell’s Gate (10.53km), both of which are run in a similar format to 2022.

The second pass through Hell’s Gate, which finishes amid stunning scenery at Fischer’s Tower, 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, where they will be greeted by the waiting Kenyan President William Ruto.