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HomeMotorsportsWRC Safari Rally 2024: Rovanperä wins, Hyundai saves many points

WRC Safari Rally 2024: Rovanperä wins, Hyundai saves many points

Kalle Rovanperä takes a clear victory in Kenya ahead of Katsuta and Fourmaux – Hyundai drivers take advantage of new points system – Lappi in permanent bad luck

Reigning World Rally Champion Kalle Rovanperä has struck back at the Safari Rally Kenya. The Finn, who is completing a part-time program in the World Rally Championship (WRC) this year, claimed his twelfth career victory and the first win of the season for Toyota after two Hyundai triumphs at the start of the season.

“It’s always special because this rally is so tough. It’s a legendary event for Toyota, we always do so well here. We did a good job and drove cleverly. As they say in Africa: the car at the front is always a Toyota!” he sums up.

This is not just something that is said: the Safari Rally, although now held in the “normal” WRC format and no longer over thousands and thousands of kilometers on public roads as in the past, lived up to its dreaded reputation even in its modern incarnation. With the exception of Rovanperä, all the contenders for victory ran into problems during the 19 special stages.

The dreaded monsoon showers, which would have turned some of the routes into slippery mud battles, largely failed to materialize. Instead, the participants had to contend with the heat and, above all, with treacherous stones, which affected many of them.

“I don’t know where they come from. When you see them, you can’t avoid them,” said Thierry Neuville (Hyundai; 5th), who damaged the rear of his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 twice during the rally – on Sunday morning by a massive stone lying on the track.

Rovanperä had already created a clear situation on Friday when he won all six special stages of the day and opened up a lead of almost a minute over all his rivals – one of them even with a tire that was no longer properly seated on the rim.

On Saturday, the competition helped out with several punctures, with Elfyn Evans (Toyota; 4th) shining with unintentional comedy when he suffered four punctures in one day, costing him several minutes. On Sunday, the two-time world champion cruised to victory – the manufacturer points were more important than the “Super Sunday” counters

Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota; 2nd) also suffered a puncture on Saturday’s 36-kilometre “Sleeping Warrior” stage, which turned out to be the toughest of the entire rally. As he otherwise got through without any major problems, the Japanese driver was rewarded with second place. At the finish, he thanked the Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 for its reliability

Hyundai uses Sunday to limit the damage

Hyundai experienced the exact opposite of a clean rally. All hopes of a third consecutive win of the season were dashed on the very first day. Esapekka Lappi retired with gearbox damage. Hyundai admitted that the gearbox is a weak point of the Rally1 car.

Lappi also proved this on Sunday, when he again had to contend with gearbox problems and was also left without points in the Sunday classification. As a small consolation, he still scored three WRC points for third place in the Power Stage, which the three Hyundai drivers settled among themselves with some frustration in their stomachs.

While Lappi dropped out of the points on Sunday, his team-mates made the best of their bad luck. Ott Tänak had already been leveraged out by a stone on Friday and crashed into a wall, which put an end to his ambitions of overall victory. He took victory in the “Super Sunday” classification and thus seven WRC points plus four in the Power Stage.

Thierry Neuville (Hyundai; 5th) was the only Hyundai driver to finish the rally on time, but things were anything but smooth sailing for the Belgian. In addition to the two collisions with stones and walls already mentioned, he lost most of his time due to an engine problem on Saturday, which forced him to drive parts of the eleventh stage “Soysambu” purely electrically. At the finish of the stage, he refused to comment.

Despite the encounter with the stone on Sunday, which fortunately happened shortly before a service, the championship leader in second place on Sunday scored six important points for the championship standings.

By winning the Power Stage, he collected a further five bonus points and even extended his championship lead. The fact that he scored just one point less than rally winner Rovanperä is likely to lead to further discussions about the new WRC points system

Cautious approach pays off for M-Sport

Due to the budget deficit compared to the East Asian manufacturers alone, the three M-Sport drivers approached the Safari Rally on the Easter weekend more like hedgehogs than rabbits.

“Just don’t break anything,” was Adrien Fourmaux’s motto – and it paid off: Third place overall for the Frenchman, who was the only Rally1 driver apart from Rovanperä to get through without any major problems. With his second podium finish in a row, he also moved up to third place in the WRC standings.

The approach also paid off for Jourdan Serderitis (Ford; 9th), who was the only Rally1 privateer on the grid. “Great! A top result and a good opportunity for me to forget about work and other personal things. Maybe we’ll do [a rally] again? You never know,” said the Greek.

However, the tactics did not work out for Gregoire Munster (M-Sport-Ford; 15). The Belgian-Luxembourgish driver missed the chance of a personal best result when he hit a stone hidden in a bush on Saturday and tore off his suspension

Victory in the WRC2 classification went to Gus Greensmith (Skoda; 6th), who had already pulled three minutes clear on the opening day and safely managed his lead over Oliver Solberg (Skoda; 7th).

After the tough Safari Rally, there is hardly any time for the WRC stars to take a deep breath, as they will quickly continue with the recce for the asphalt rally in Croatia from April 18 to 21.

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