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HomeMotorsportsWRC Safari Rally 2024: Rovanperä leads, nightmare for Hyundai

WRC Safari Rally 2024: Rovanperä leads, nightmare for Hyundai

Kalle Rovanperä storms to the front at the Safari Rally in Kenya, but doesn’t want to know anything about a preliminary decision yet – Lappi and Tänak drop out

Kalle Rovanperä took the lead at the Safari Rally with a faultless drive, while Hyundai suffered a veritable debacle on Friday. Ott Tänak and Esapekka Lappi retired, Thierry Neuville was set back by a puncture. As a result, three Toyota cars lead the standings in the equatorial African heat

Rovanperä leads by 56.9 seconds from his team-mate Elfyn Efans after six special stages on Friday and a superspecial on Thursday. Takamoto Katsuta completes the Toyota trio with a gap of 1:00.8 minutes.

The reigning world champion doesn’t want to know anything about a preliminary decision: “I wouldn’t say that the lead is big enough. It’s not even nearly big enough. All it will take tomorrow is a heavy downpour or something similar and the gaps could be huge.”

“When it rains here, it really rains. Then it’s like driving on ice and you struggle to keep the car on the track even on the straights. “

All Hyundai drivers in trouble

The drama of the day was the complete collapse of Hyundai’s ambitions for victory. Lappi was hot on Rovanperä’s heels and only 15 seconds behind when the gearbox blew up in his face on the fifth special stage.

“The gearbox literally exploded,” reports Lappi. “First it switched to front-wheel drive. There was no knock or noise when accelerating, it simply switched to front-wheel drive. A few hundred meters later, the car stopped pulling at all, regardless of whether I was driving in first or fifth gear.”

Lappi talks about a few knocks on the stages beforehand, which are part and parcel of the still material-killing Safari Rally. At the time of the defect, however, there were no knocks. “We can change the gearbox and start again tomorrow, but I don’t see the point in trying,” he adds.

Hyundai technical director Francois-Xavier Demaison confirms that the gearbox is a weak point of the Hyundai i20 N Rally1, but admits that there is no solution in the short term and that we have to live with it.

Ott Tänak now took over the role of Rovanperä’s pursuer, but his attack ended just one special stage later. He hit a stone and was catapulted into a wall. The damage was too extensive, the car was undriveable.

“Things like this happen very often at the Safari Rally,” said the 2019 world champion. “The [stone] was very hidden and I couldn’t react – also because the road there was so narrow with the wall on the other side. I had nowhere to go and had to drive over the stone. I don’t think it damaged the car badly, but I hit it too hard. All the damage is because of that.”

M-Sport pilots crawl their way to the front

This means that Hyundai’s hopes are now pinned on Thierry Neuville, but the championship leader did not have a problem-free day either: he had already dropped back by the time his team-mates retired when he touched a wall on the third special stage.

The result was not only a puncture that cost him time. The bodywork was also damaged, allowing dust to penetrate the interior. Neuville therefore had to continue driving with a face mask and diving goggles, which is not necessarily conducive to fast times.

The two M-Sport drivers Adrien Fourmax and Gregoire Munster follow in fifth and sixth place. The Frenchman is only 50 seconds behind second place and is therefore still part of the battle between Evans, Katsuta and Neuville. Munster is already 1.47 minutes behind

In WRC2, Gus Greensmith (Skoda) is in a commanding seventh place overall despite stomach problems. He is even ahead of Jourdan Serderidis in the third Ford Puma Rally1. He is already more than three minutes ahead of his closest rival Kajetan Kajetanowicz (Skoda)

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