Thierry Neuville leads the Safari Rally after yet another dramatic and car breaking day in the World Rally Championship.
Neuville was on fine form in the morning taking all three stage wins to open up a 5.9 second lead from Toyota’s Kalle Rovenpera. The Finn would lead the event after stage five, but Neuville hit back on six before disaster struck Rovenpera on the final stage of the day.
Neuville had completed the final stage but having already lost time with a puncture on stage five, the Belgium suffered another double puncture on stage seven and dropped nearly forty seconds to eventual stage winner Sebastien Ogier.
It was to be of no great worry for Neuville though as Rovenpera got his Yaris beached in the infamous soft sand called fesh-fesh. Stuck in the middle of the stage the Yaris had to be towed out by an event support vehicle before the stage could be restarted.
Event rules for Kenya state that any car stuck in this fashion may receive external assistance and continue in the rally, with the time loss associated with the rescue deemed punishment enough. However, Rovenpera clearly thought that losing ten minutes via the Rally2 restart rules was less painful than the time lost stuck in the stage and called it a day
Takamoto Katsuta continued his impressive campaign and as cars dropped in front of him, he topped of a superb opening day in Kenya with a joint fastest time with Ogier on the final stage of the day. This put the Japanese driver into second overall 37 seconds clear of the third placed Hyundai of Ott Tanak.
Tanak was another who had suffered with punctures through out the day and another on the final stage meant that he drove at just sixty percent speed as the Estonian looked to reach the end of an event and retiring from the last two events.
Championship leader Ogier was down in fourth, nearly two minutes off the lead after a leaking damper prevent the World Champion from keeping on Neuville’s pace in the morning stages as he nursed the car through the African wilderness until service.
As previously mentioned, a joint fastest stage time on the final run of the day, plus the dramas ahead of him moved the Frenchman from sixth to fourth. Championship rival Elfyn Evans was out of the running after retiring on stage three, hitting a rock and ripping a wheel off his Yaris. With one of his main rivals out and Neuville out front, Ogier may look to just take the points for fourth and profit from any misfortune of those ahead of him.
Fifth and sixth were the M-Sport duo of Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux. Despite a broken anti-roll bar for Greensmith earlier in the day, both crews took a steady approach to the and benefitted from those failing to finish the day ahead of them.
The third Hyundai of Dani Sordo retired on stage three after leaving the road at high speed and breaking the i20’s suspension and Oliver Solberg’s gravel WRC debut came to an abrupt end after he damaged the rear suspension of the car. He made roadside repairs, but the car suffered further damage which impacted the roll cage and they called it a day after stage three.
Lorenzo Bertelli also had to retire after a coolant leak sent the temperature of his Ford Fiesta WRC’s engine through the roof and lone WRC2 entrant Martin Prokop ended the day on his roof and meant that he would go no further.