Ogiers says Pirellis slashed his Kenya lead

Ogier says that the Pirellis have reduced his lead in Kenya. Image: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Sebastien Ogier reckons he would be leading by at least 40 seconds going into the final six stages of Safari Rally Kenya had he not encountered a double tyre whammy on today’s closing stage.

The Frenchman started the Saturday leg of the Naivasha-based event 22.8 seconds in front of his Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Kalle Rovanpera and succeeded in extending that despite heavy overnight rain turning the gravel roads into muddy lanes.

By the end of Saturday’s penultimate speed test, he was 32 seconds clear of Rovanpera and seemingly on course to put further daylight between himself and the young Finn before disaster struck on the repeat of ‘Sleeping Warrior’.

He completed the 31 Kilometre stages 15.3 seconds slower than Rovanpera due to the front tyres on his GR Yaris Rally1 losing pressure which meant his lead was trimmed by 16.7 seconds heading into Sunday.

Ogier has been one of the most vocal critics of Pirelli since it replaced Michelin in 2021 as the competition’s control tyre supplier, his love-hate relationship with the brand well-documented.

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Following last May’s Rally de Portugal he called on the Italian company to up its game after multiple drivers – himself included – either collected punctures on the country’s rough roads or experienced tyres coming off their rims.

He was also aggrieved that a pothole on the penultimate stage of the 2022 Rallye Monte-Carlo four months earlier demoted him from first to second as countryman Sebastien Loeb went on to take the victory.

“It is okay, we are in the lead, that is the most important thing,” said Ogier, who remains on course to make it two Safari Rally Kenya victories in the space of three years on Sunday.

“Obviously, it [the time loss] is just a question of bad luck. Basically, if I had the same luck as Kalle it [my lead] would be 40 or 45 seconds easy, but all weekend so far, a little [time has been lost] here and a little there, but we are still in the lead so that is the most important.

“None of the drivers were waiting for it [the rain] because it is not fun to drive in – it is just surviving – so I took it easy and try to manage [the risk] and yeah, at least it is behind us,” he added.

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