Ogier in control in Kenya

Ogier leads in Kenya after Friday’s running. Photo: XPB Images

Sebastien Ogier might only be a World Rally Championship part-timer this season but he’s on course for a third victory in five starts – as things stand.

The eight-time champion completed Friday’s opening leg of the Safari Rally in front by 22.5s having notched up four stage wins aboard his factory Toyota.

His tally of fastest times included an unbroken trio this afternoon after his decision to carry one spare Pirelli when all his rivals opted for two proved inspired.“It’s been almost perfect,” Ogier said at the overnight halt in Naivasha.

“I tried to push on the first two stages. On the third one there’s always a bit of fear with a lot of rocks coming out of the sand, and we lost the hybrid after a few kilometres.

“This afternoon I felt it was possible to go with just one spare tyre, and that if I drive very clean and smooth I can still be fast with the advantage of being lighter. It paid off.

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“It’s the first time I’ve got through Friday in Kenya without major time loss, so let’s hope we can carry on like this tomorrow, the biggest day of the rally with very difficult stages to get through.”

Kalle Rovanpera, Ogier’s WRC points-leading team-mate, is second overall with Elfyn Evans making it a provisional Yaris podium lockout in third having survived charging a bush midway through SS7.

Safari rookie Esapekka Lappi is fourth in the lead Hyundai, 54.0s down on Ogier after he lost approximately 30s nursing a delaminated left-rear tyre through SS4.

The Finn started the afternoon in sixth position, two places behind team-mate Thierry Neuvillle, but overtook Takamoto Katsuta and then inherited a fourth when the Belgian’s front-left suspension broke in a compression eight kilometres from the start of SS6.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Neuville, who arrived in Kenya second in the standings.

“There was no warning at all. Just before a left junction, the damper came out of its position and the top mount came loose under braking, which was the end of the rally for us. It was a shame as we hoped our puncture in the morning was the end of our bad luck for the weekend.

“With the conditions here, anything can happen, and now we have to analyse if there is an opportunity to return tomorrow and get back into the points.”

Neuville was also delayed on SS2 when a bee flew into his i20 before he lost more ground with a puncture on SS3.

Katsuta, meanwhile, is fifth having picked up front-end damage on his Toyota on SS4, with Dani Sordo in sixth after the Spaniard was slowed by dust entering his i20’s cockpit.

M-Sport Ford duo Ott Tanak and Pierre-Louis Loubet are seventh and eighth after another tough day for the semi-works British team.

Tanak was fastest through Thursday’s opening superspecial but dropped out of contention with a puncture on SS4 having been hampered on SS3 by an apparent steering fault. The Estonian also reported a power issue on SS4. Loubet, meanwhile, was delayed by having to stop to change a puncture on SS5.

WRC2 pacesetter Gregoire Munster and Kajetan Kajetanowicz complete the top 10.

Saturday’s route takes crews north of Naivasha towards Lake Elmenteita and includes double runs through the Sleeping Warrior stage, now the rally’s longest at 31.04 kilometres after Friday’s Kedong test was trimmed in length.

Overall – SS7 Kedong 2

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