BREAKING NEW: Ogier seizes the success of Safari
When Neuville pulled out his Hyundai i20 in Sunday’s opening speed test after hitting a rock and shattering the right rear shock absorber, the Frenchman was in a perfect position to capitalize.
He demoted his Toyota teammate Yaris Takamoto Katsuta on the penultimate stage to win the four-day African classic by 21.8 seconds on his return to the FIA World Rally Championship after a 19-year absence.
Ogier worked his way up to seventh after suffering his own suspension issues on Friday. His fourth victory in six rounds took the seven-time champion’s lead to 34 points at mid-season.
“After our problems on Friday we had a really good weekend, a really good pace,” said Ogier. “It has been an incredible experience to be here. The support we received from the local people was amazing. It may be a little shorter than before, but the challenge is still very difficult.
The Safari lived up to its reputation as the iconic motorsport event in the world. The rocky and sandy gravel tracks around Lakes Naivasha and Elmenteita in the Great Rift Valley provided a brutal test, while stunning scenery, exotic wildlife and enthusiastic locals portrayed Africa in its best light.
Neuville had led for all but two stages until his untimely demise, the third consecutive rally where Hyundai had pulled out of the lead with suspension problems.
“Very little luck for us, but also for the whole team,” said the Belgian. “Three tough rally weekends in a row, and no one deserved it. We would have deserved three wins in the last three events, but unfortunately we didn’t.
Video: Safari Rally Kenya Wolf Power Stage
Japan’s Katsuta maintained his steady progression to clinch his first WRC podium finishing second to seal Toyota Gazoo Racing’s fourth 1-2 result of the season, widening his constructors’ championship lead to 59 points.
Aside from a few engine chocks, Katsuta has been exemplary throughout. He finished 47.7 seconds ahead of Ott Tänak, who was closing in until a faulty windshield heater on Saturday’s rainy final stage forced him to stop and go. clean the fogged glass with his hand.
M-Sport Ford twins Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux placed fourth and fifth in their Fiestas. Their risk-free strategy paid off and the Frenchman Fourmaux celebrated his first stage victory at the highest level on Sunday morning. They were divided by a tenth only after Fourmaux received a penalty of 10 seconds after the rally.
Kalle Rovanperä was sixth at nearly nine minutes behind the wheel of his Yaris, having suffered a heavy time penalty when his car came to rest in deep sand on Friday and he retired.
WRC3 leader Onkar Rai finished seventh, ahead of fellow support riders Karan Patel and Carl Tundo. Elfyn Evans grabbed a point in 10th place after parking his Yaris on Friday morning with a broken suspension.
The championship returns to Europe when Rally Estonia (July 15-18) kicks off the second half of the season.