Tuesday April 16, 2024

Rovanperä closes in on Safari Rally victory

Published : 31 Mar 2024, 23:59

  DF News Desk
Kalle Rovanperä of Finland celebrates during the awarding ceremony for the 2022 Croatia Rally, third round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Kumrovec, Croatia, on April 24, 2022. File Photo: Luka Stanzl/PIXSELL via Xinhua.

World champion Kalle Rovanperä from Finland is closing in on his second World Rally Championship (WRC) Safari Rally victory after dominating the penultimate day of this year's event on Saturday in Naivasha, northwest of Nairobi, reported Xinhua.

The 2022 winner was one of the few top drivers to enjoy a clean run on Saturday's six (SS8-SS13) stages, extending his lead at the top to two minutes and 8.2 seconds over his closest challengers on a day when contrasting wet and dry conditions reigned havoc on the field.

Japanese ace and fellow Toyota GR Yaris teammate, Takamoto Katsuta is Rovanperä's closest challenger with Ford Puma M-Sport Frenchman, Adrien Fourmaux a further three minutes and 13 seconds adrift of the leader in third.

"The lead is now quite good, so of course we took it carefully. It's not so enjoyable when you have a big lead and on 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," the 23-year-old Rovanperä, two-time world champion, told WRC.com after his run.

After blitzing through every stage on Friday, Rovanperä eased off the gas in a more measured approach as mayhem broke all around him on the roads near Lake Elementaita.

Behind him, Welshman Elfyn Evans and Katsuta completed the Toyota Yaris front three but the pair fell off the podium places after sustaining punctures in the morning three stages.

That allowed WRC championship leader, Belgium's Thierry Neuville, to move up to second but his Hyundai i20 N machine suffered issues with its fuel system in the final stage in the afternoon that saw him drop down to fifth on the leaderboard, over 11 minutes and 48 seconds behind Rovanperä.

Evans recovered to finish fourth with WRC 2 (second tier) leader Gus Greensmith and his biggest rival Oliver Solberg rounding off the top seven.

Carl Tundo in a WRC 2 Ford Fiesta is the best-placed Kenyan still in the running in 15th place, over 55 minutes behind the overnight leader.

Karan Patel (19), Aakif Virani (20), Minesh Rathod (21) and Hamza Anwar (23) are the other local drivers still in the running in the grueling event widely regarded as the toughest rally in the world.

So far, six of the 29 official starters have retired, including WRC 1 stars, 2019 world champion, Ott Tanak and his Hyundai i20N teammate and last month's WRC Rally Sweden winner, Esapekka Lappi.

The Safari concludes on Sunday with three more stages.