Rovanpera avoids Saturday dramas, edges closer to WRC Safari Rally win

Kalle Rovanpera took a significant step toward clinching his second Safari Rally Kenya victory, the Toyota Gazoo Racing ace steering clear of trouble while his WRC rivals hit difficulties on Saturday’s second leg.

In one of the most eventful days of the 2024 FIA World Rally Championship season so far — one which was marked by fluctuating conditions ranging from dry and dusty to wet and muddy — Rovanpera (above) was one of few contenders to enjoy a clean run. The two-time and reigning WRC champ, who’s chosen to run only a limited program this season, stretched his lead to an impressive 2m8.9s as rivals including Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, and his Toyota teammates Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta encountered significant setbacks.

Despite dominating every stage the previous day, Rovanpera adopted a more conservative approach on Saturday’s stages near Lake Elmenteita, located south of the rally’s Naivasha base. The GR Yaris Rally1 driver initially headed teammates Evans and Katsuta until the pair fell behind after both sustaining punctures in the morning loop.


Neuville emerged as Rovanpera’s closest threat, but his challenge was short-lived after his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 encountered a fuel system issue during the afternoon’s first stage at Soysambu. Neuville dropped significant time as he nursed the problem through the remaining two stages, which opened the door for Katsuta to reclaim the runner-up spot, ahead of M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux.

Despite losing time to a puncture, Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta finished Saturday’s leg in second as his podium rivals faltered. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT photo

Under the WRC’s new-for-2024 points system, Rovanpera’s Saturday standing will earn him 18 points provided he completes Sunday’s six remaining stages. Katsuta will receive 15, while Fourmaux, who ended the leg 3m13.3s off the lead, will get 13.

“The lead is now quite good,” said Rovanpera, “so of course we took it carefully. It’s not so enjoyable when you have a big lead and in a stage like [Sleeping Warrior] you just go around every rock — it’s scary. Tomorrow is still a tough day and we will try to finish the job.”

Fourmaux survived a front-left tire delamination in the final stage in his Puma Rally1 and is now on track to secure his second top-three finish in consecutive rallies, following his maiden podium in Sweden in February. The Frenchman led fourth-placed Evans, who suffered a total of four punctures during Saturday’s six stages, by over two minutes.

M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux stayed trouble-free until a puncture on Saturday’s final stage, but still holds third. M-Sport photo

A visibly upset Neuville completed the overall top five more than 11 minutes adrift of the leading pace, with his restarting Hyundai teammate, Ott Tanak, clawing his way back to 10th overall, albeit more than 20 minutes off the lead, after a steering issue had ended his Friday early. One place ahead of the Estonian, Jordan Serderidis is enjoying a one-off WRC outing, but makes it two M-Sport Pumas in the top 10.

In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Gus Greensmith edged closer to the class victory after ending Saturday with a commanding buffer still intact.

Providing he can steer clear of any major dramas in Sunday’s upcoming final leg, the Skoda Fabia RS driver is poised to gain maximum points from his first scoring event of the season (WRC2 contenders are allowed to nominate only seven events for championship points). With his flu-like symptoms gradually improving, Saturday was a much more enjoyable day for the Brit.

Greensmith took full advantage of the sizeable lead he’d built over the previous day, taking minimal risks to avoid damaging his tires on Kenya’s rock-strewn roads. He dropped time to his Toksport Skoda teammate Oliver Solberg, who’d been hampered by tire troubles on Friday, across all but one of Saturday’s stages, but still reached the overnight halt 1m55.0s clear of the Swede.

“It’s been fine today, and I am feeling better now,” Greensmith said. “We took the last stage nice and easy because we knew it was going to be rough, and it made no sense to lose time changing a tire. Nothing was more physically demanding than yesterday — today, in comparison, was a walk in the park…”

Feeling better after battling flu-like symptons, Gus Greensmith took minimal risks to keep hold of the WRC2 lead. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Sunday’s finale features two loops of three stages covering both sides of Lake Naivasha. Malewa, Oserengoni and Hell’s Gate are all run twice, making for a 46.22-mile closing leg. The second run through the 6.54-mile Hell’s Gate will be the bonus points-paying, rally-closing Wolf Power Stage.    

WRC Safari Rally Kenya, positions after Leg Two, SS13
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 2h48m50.2s
2 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +2m08.9s
3 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Puma Rally1) +3m13.3s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +5m35.6s
5 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +11m48.6s
6 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Anedrsson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2 leader) +15m02.0s
7 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +16m57.0s 
8 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +21m15.7s
9 Jordan Serderidis/Frederic Miclotte (Ford Puma Rally1) +21m56.4s
10 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +21m58.1s

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Story originally appeared on Racer