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Leg report
WRC Rally Kenya

WRC Safari Rally: Ogier pulls clear of Rovanpera, Neuville retires

Sebastien Ogier pulled clear of World Rally Championship leader Kalle Rovanpera on Friday afternoon at Safari Rally Kenya, as Hyundai rival Thierry Neuville’s victory hopes ended.

Toyota driver Ogier won four of the day’s six stages to head into Saturday with a 22.8s lead over Rovanpera, who impressed despite starting first on the road.

Ogier held a 2.5s lead following the morning loop, with his only issue a lack of hybrid on stage four. He then produced a faultless afternoon performance to clean sweep the three stages.

Toyota’s Elfyn Evans held a relatively comfortable third (+43.5s) following Neuville’s exit from fourth due to a suspension failure on stage six.

Neuville’s Hyundai team-mate Esapekka Lappi inherited fourth (+54.0s), despite losing time to a puncture in the morning. Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta ended the day fifth, ahead of Hyundai’s Dani Sordo.

M-Sport’s Ott Tanak, who lost a tyre off the rim in the morning, rose to seventh (+3m03s) after tyre problems for team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet dropped him to eighth.

Ogier almost produced a carbon copy of his morning run through the Loldia stage, which was much drier compared to the first pass.

With the hybrid issue fixed Ogier was again untouchable in the test, posting a time 8.4s faster than next best Lappi. The effort resulted in Ogier extending his overall rally lead by 15.3s over Rovanpera as the latter struggled with understeer, having felt he'd made a "small mistake on set-up".

"My strategy is a bit different," said Ogier. "I tried to drive more clean and gain the performance from the tyres. It's only in the last one that the risk is very high."

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Tanak showed improvement to clock the third fastest time, albeit 10.2s adrift. The Estonian revealed that his team had managed to improve the suspension on his Puma, having struggled with the handling in the morning loop.

The stage wasn’t without drama though, as Tanak’s team-mate Loubet stopped 11.3km into the 19.17km stage to change a wheel. The Frenchman dropped 2m45.8s in the process.

"Under braking, in the middle there was a big step and we broke the wheel there," said Loubet.

Katsuta also lost time after an altercation with a zebra which damaged the front of his GR Yaris, but he managed to hold onto fifth overall.

Ogier continued his charge on stage six as he racked up his third stage win of the event. A decision to take only one spare to lighten his GR Yaris appeared to be inspired, although he was again pushed by Lappi who was only 1.2s slower.

Rovanpera seemed to suffer less understeer in the test, but still lost another 2.6s to Ogier.

However, the headline from the stage was the demise of fourth-placed Neuville. The Belgian’s Hyundai i20N suffered a first left suspension failure following a compression, 7.9km into the 13.12km test. Neuville nursed the car to an access road but would move no further.

At the front, Ogier completed a perfect afternoon by winning the 30.6km second pass through Kedong (stage seven) with a 2.4s margin over Rovanpera.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Fabien Dufour / Hyundai Motorsport

"Except for the hybrid issue this morning we had a perfect day, so we can be happy," said Ogier.

Evans was fortunate not to lose time when he struck a bush, while Katsuta was lucky after cracking his GR Yaris’ windscreen when he hit a tree branch, before suffering a front right puncture.

Tanak dropped 21.3s to Ogier in the test, admitting that he couldn’t go any faster in the stage. M-Sport team-mate Loubet fared even worse after being forced to change another wheel, costing him more time.

The field will tackle six more stages on Saturday, which is expected to be the toughest day of the rally.

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