Returning to the World Rally Championship (WRC) schedule after a break of nearly 20 years, the Safari proved over three days that it had lost none of its car-breaking reputation.
There were a number of high-profile victims on the opening day, including Oliver Solberg (the son of 2003 WRC champion Petter Solberg), who hit a rock on the very first stage of his gravel World Rally Car debut, causing enough damage to the Hyundai’s chassis that he later had to retire.
By Saturday, it was another Hyundai – this time driven by Thierry Neuville – that had established itself firmly in the lead. The Belgian looked set for his first win of the season with a lead of nearly a minute, but on Sunday morning he also hit a rock, terminally damaging his car’s right-rear suspension.
This promoted Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta into the lead, but he had his Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier right behind him, who had been more than two minutes down on Friday following his own suspension issues.
With just two stages to go, Katsuta and Ogier were, incredibly, tied for the lead – but perhaps inevitably, the seven-time champion moved in front to eventually win by 21sec from Katsuta and seal Toyota’s fourth one-two result of the year, increasing their lead in both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ standings.
Hyundai’s Ott Tänak finished a distant third, having dropped minutes as his car’s windscreen misted up in torrential rain on Saturday night, while M-Sport Ford claimed its best result of the season with fourth and fifth, courtesy of Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux respectively, with the Frenchman claiming his first WRC stage win on Sunday.
Toyota’s Kalle Rovanperä was sixth, having retired from the leg on Friday night after becoming stuck in soft sand while leading the rally, while local man Onkar Rai was seventh and the winner of WRC3 in his Volkswagen Polo R5.
A final mention should go to 91-year-old former European Champion Sobiesław Zasada from Poland, contesting the WRC3 category. He was still running on the final day of the rally but went off and got stuck on Sunday morning. He was about to extricate himself when another rally car driven by a local Kenyan also went off in the same place and crashed into him, causing too much damage to then continue. It was a real shame for a valiant effort, as he nearly made it to the finish.