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Flawless Rovanpera seals WRC Safari Rally Kenya victory

Kalle Rovanpera (above) put on a flawless performance to become a two-time WRC Safari Rally Kenya winner, the Toyota Gazoo Racing ace ending the grueling African event on Sunday afternoon with a 1m37.8s victory margin after leading since Friday morning’s opening stages.

In what was by far the most challenging FIA World Rally Championship round so far this season, it was the two-time and reigning champ’s meticulous balance of speed and maturity that ultimately secured his 12th career WRC victory.

The 23-year-old Finn, co-driven by Jonne Halttunen, built a lead of almost one minute after winning all of Friday’s rock-strewn stages around Lake Naivasha in his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1, then kept things clean to end Saturday’s second leg two minutes clear as the chasing pack ran into mechanical troubles and tire damage.

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That buffer allowed Rovanpera, who has chosen to run only a part-time 2024 WRC campaign, to drive for a finish in Sunday’s final leg, which consisted of ix stages and culminated amid the stunning scenery and roaming wildlife of the 6.54-mile Hell’s Gate test.

Kalle Rovanpera and Jonne Halttunen added a second Safari Rally win to the one the Toyota duo earned in 2022. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

“It’s always special to win here,” said Rovanpera. “Also, it’s a legendary event for Toyota. We’ve always been so good here and that’s continuing. 

“A big thanks to the team — everybody made a big effort to make the car work so well. I think me and Jonne did a good job; I don’t think you can have a better Safari Rally than we did. No issues, clever driving, and I think it was a good effort.”

Takamoto Katsuta completed a Toyota 1-2 as the Japanese marque extended its manufacturers’ championship lead to four points over Hyundai Motorsport.

Takamoto Katsuta earned his third career Safari Rally podium to complete a Toyota 1-2 in Kenya. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans ended Friday in contention for a podium, and a possible Toyota sweep, but a fraught Saturday, which saw the Welshman stop twice to carry out stage-side wheel changes, meant he finished over four minutes back from his teammate Rovanpera in fourth overall. He remains second in the WRC drivers’ championship behind leader Thierry Neuville, who trailed him by almost six minutes in fifth.

M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 driver Adrien Fourmaux headed home Evans to complete the podium after a clean and measured drive, the Frenchman grabbing his second consecutive third-place finish, albeit some 47.3s behind Katsuta’s Yaris.