Sébastien Ogier won the Safari Rally, a race in which he was not the fastest, he was the least unlucky, and once again counted on the poor reliability of the Hyundai that again had problems with the suspension of the i20 WRC. Takamoto Katsuta led near the end, but the Frenchman pulled back and triumphed for the fourth time in six rallies. For the Japanese, this was his best result ever.
Nineteen years later, Rally Safari returned to the WRC, in an event that honored its past, in terms of the difficulty that the event has historically placed on its competitors.
In an era in which the World Rally Championship values speed much more than endurance, as has happened in the past, the African race was an excellent addition to the competition, as the distinction it introduced was positive. See competitors managing their pace and turning in curves where they would normally pass at triple the speed, running at 30 km/h, there were so many stones on the course. If anyone was surprised, it was the young fans, as the ‘veterans’ have always known the combination of speed with endurance and management in the WRC.
In this context, the teams quickly realized that survival was the main objective, such was the pace at which competitors with problems began to ‘fall’, as early as Friday, on what was thought to be the ‘softest’ day of the competition. An appetizer, which quickly became indigestible.
Much shorter stretches than the 2002 Safari, but equally tough. So, despite these WRCs being robust, the way teams use them, in the limits, immensely increases the risk of problems and quickly the teams realized it.
The classification at the end of the first day immediately showed that it had been a difficult and hard day, in this return from WRC to Safari.
Interestingly, the feeling was that after everything they went through on the first day, the competitors adapted to the second, in which almost nothing happened in terms of mechanics, derived from the hardness of the route, but then the weather came into play.
After a dry day, a huge load of water that didn’t affect everyone, turned the rankings again, ‘plotting’ essentially Ott Tanak and Takamoto Katsuta.
On the first day, Elfyn Evans, Dani Sordo, Oliver Solberg, Lorenzo Bertelli and Kalle Rovanperä left the race for various reasons, but on the second, all the World Rally Cars arrived at the end of the day unharmed. Only Adrien Fourmaux had a slight problem, with his foot that got into the car today and Ott Tanak, who lost almost two minutes with the heating failure. Things that can happen anywhere.
The first day of the race was a huge test for everyone, and mistakes weren’t made on the second day when no one attacked. Another example that was out of the ordinary were the notes.
Most have changed their notes a lot from one ticket to another. The biggest problem? The lack of references on the sections.
many ups and downs
Summarizing a lot what each driver’s test was, Sébastien Ogier did those tests that only he knows. He had problems with the oil reservoir of a shock absorber on Friday and lost a lot of time reaching the end of the day 1m49.4s behind the leader, in fourth place. He recovered something on Saturday, and with the help of rain, he was 18.1s off Takamoto Katsuta in third place. On Sunday, he did the rest, passed his teammate, after Neuville retired. The first day ends almost two minutes from the leader and will still win the rally. Only on Safari. There are those who talk about luck, but this is always a lot of work…
Takamoto Katsuta made a brilliant rally. Knowing that it was up to his teammates to fight for the best positions, he proceeded cautiously, it was already paying him dividends as he saw opponents ‘fall’, but everything came to a head when he reached the end of the first day in second place overall. He bravely held the position throughout the second day, in which no one attacked anyone and came to the top of the rally when Neuville retired. It still held up a section, but Ogier passed it on the penultimate stage. The time he lost in the late-day rain on Saturday was decisive. Still, his best WRC ranking ever.
Ott Tänak arrived at this rally suspiciously, he rode consistently, but always without forcing the pace, confessing later that he rode at 60% of capacity.
The tactics were good, the opponents did indeed have problems, and if he hasn’t had the bad luck that the i20 WRC’s heating breaks down, he would almost certainly have been at least second in the rally. It was 14.5s from Katsuta and 49.5s from Neuville. The bad luck only knocked at the door of the Hyundai.
For Adrien Fourmaux, three races with a WRC, 5th in Croatia, 6th in Portugal and now 4th in Safari. Knowing that it was not possible for him to fight further ahead, he was running away from problems and gradually rising in position. He won the fight with his teammate, and like his teammate, he survived an experience completely different from the one he had already had in rallying. M-Sport gave him a car as tall and stiff as possible, so as not to damage it, it took away traction, but it made little difference compared to what was needed. Another good performance, more and more to make Teemu Suninen forget.
Gus Greensmith had in Safari the ideal test for not raising waves. He took advantage of the experience, walked far enough, but lost a direct fight with Fourmaux.
Kalle Rovanperä was close to heaven on the first day of the race and after winning PE4 and 5 he took the lead in the rally, but at the end of the day he got stuck in the fesh-fesh and had to retire. On the second day, like everyone else, he managed the pace to escape problems, which he did until the end, finishing in sixth place. He was second at PowerStage, and after two bad results, he came back to a good moment.
Elfyn Evans was fourth overall when she hit a huge boulder she knew from reconnaissance. A mistake that threw him out of the race. Everything else was to minimize losses. He scored four points, three of them on PowerStage. It was 10th overall.
Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe did not deserve what happened to them. They had a great performance, they had the victory almost guaranteed after reaching the last day of the race with 57.4s ahead of the second, but a break in the suspension, another one for Hyundai, ‘plotted them’, inglorious losing this race. It’s true that he had a double puncture on the first day and still managed to keep the lead, but the luck he had there lost it on the last day.
Lorenzo Bertelli runs in the races he wants, he doesn’t have to justify to anyone the fact that he walks little, he goes there to have fun, and that’s what he did. It now has a Safari in its curriculum, which few current pilots have.
Dani Sordo retired at PE3 after hitting a rock, breaking his suspension arm, and going off the road. He returned, drove the car to the end and scored a PowerStage point.
Oliver Solberg crashed in shakedown, was ninth in PE2 and crashed in the next, wasting another opportunity to evolve in the WRC. It has a lot of value, but it is difficult to show it. Even if you lower the pace a little, you will continue to walk a lot, maybe I should have had another approach to this race.
As is natural in the face of so many problems, the top 10 was completed with several local riders. Onkar Rai (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5) triumphed over four minutes ahead of Karan Patel (Ford Fiesta R5) with Carl Tundo (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5) in third, ninth overall.
It was Elfyn Evans who closed the top 10.
It was expected that Rally Safari would be tough for mechanics and there were traps in “every corner” but after a first day full of incidents, and a very calm second, until it started to rain… for some.
Thierry Neuville led the survivors of the Safari Rally on the opening day of the race, a stage that ‘destroyed’ the hopes of half of the top drivers on Friday.
The Belgian won three of the six sections, and reached the end of the day 18.8s ahead of Takamoto Katsuta, despite having had two toughs and an engine problem in the last section of the day.
Kalle Rovanperä was momentarily in the lead of the rally, but his hopes were dashed when his Toyota Yaris got stuck in the deep fesh-fesh. The car was towed off the stretch and the Finn abandoned it.
Katsuta lost time when he let the Toyota’s engine fall silent, but the Japanese rider climbed from fourth to second in the last leg of the day, taking advantage of Rovanperä’s problems and a puncture by Ott Tänak that cost the Estonian nearly a minute.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier was 1’49.4s off the lead in fourth after losing the oil in his Yaris’ right rear shock, having to slow down a lot to reach the end. Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux’s Ford Fiestas completed the top 6. Greensmith broke an anti-roll bar, but his cautious approach paid dividends. Elfyn Evans retired 300 meters from the end of PE3 after hitting a rock and breaking the right front suspension on his Yaris WRC.
Dani Sordo came out on the same stretch when a rock broke a suspension arm on his i20 WRC, sending him off the road at high speed.
Oliver Solberg was left with a damaged right rear suspension right from the start and ended up giving up after Kedong with a damaged roll bar. Lorenzo Bertelli stopped with a coolant leak in the engine of his Fiesta.
On the second day, Neuville increased his lead over Takamoto Katsuta to 57.4s, but at the end of the day a sudden downpour at the end of Sleeping Warrior’s 31.04km caused chaos in the caravan. The dry, dusty roads quickly turned to mud and the tires didn’t offer minimal grip.
Despite wasting time, Neuville held up better than Katsuta, who skated off the road and conceded more than 20s to his rival. With that, Katsuta came under pressure from Ott Tänak. But everything went wrong for the Estonian in Sleeping Warrior. Caught in the storm, his Hyundai i20’s windshield heater failed and had to stop to clean. He lost more than a minute to Katsuta and found himself relegated to fourth place.
Sébastien Ogier was in recovery mode after Friday’s suspension issues. The Frenchman won three stages, and in the end, in the rain, he climbed to third, just 18.1s behind Katsuta. The Ford men consolidated fifth and sixth positions, being separated by 12.0s.
This morning, Thierry Neuville seriously damaged the right rear suspension of his Hyundai i20 WRC and finished the first leg of the day almost a minute behind Sébastien Ogier. Even if it was possible to alleviate the problem, without assistance there was no chance of the Belgian to sustain the attacks of his opponents and after having been at the end of PE14 with just 11.7s ahead of Takamoto Katsuta, with Sébastien Ogier 4.6s further behind having gained 13.5s over the Japanese, Hyundai confirmed the abandonment of Neuville and Wydaeghe, with Takamoto Katsuta being the new Safari Rally leader, but with just 0.8s ahead of Ogier, there were three sections to go.
As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for Ogier to turn the bills in his favor. He tied at PE16, tied at PE17 by 8.3s in his favor, confirming his victory at PowerStage. Takamoto Katsuta secured second place and his best ever WRC classification, Ott Tanak finished third in a race in which he was both careful and unlucky.
There followed the two Fords, by Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith, fourth and fifth. The best overall result of the year by far for the M-Sport duos.