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Rovanpera roars ahead as Toyota dominate Safari Rally

World champion Kalle Rovanpera swept all six special stages in his Toyota GR Yaris on Friday (LUIS TATO)
World champion Kalle Rovanpera swept all six special stages in his Toyota GR Yaris on Friday (LUIS TATO)

Double reigning world champion Kalle Rovanpera powered ahead at the Safari Rally Kenya on Friday winning all six stages as his Hyundai rivals suffered mechanical problems.

The 23-year-old Finn is competing in just a few WRC world championship events this year and had been sitting third after Thursday's 'super special'.

The Toyota driver, winner of the African race in 2022, had a perfect day despite the difficult conditions in the East African savannah.

The Safari Rally, third round of 13 in the championship, is considered the most difficult, and this year it takes place during the rainy season which makes the tracks difficult to navigate.

But Rovanpera pulled out all the stops after failing to finish last month in Sweden, opening up a lead of around one minute on Toyota teammates Elfyn Evans of Wales and Japan's Takamoto Katsuta.

Championship leader Thierry Neuville had led overnight but suffered as he opened the track first ahead of his rivals.

After hitting a stone, the 35-year-old Belgian had a puncture and lost parts of the bodywork which had been torn off in the impact.

At the end of the second day, the Hyundai driver was fourth, 1 min 07sec off the pace.

His two teammates at the South Korean manufacturer, however, saw their hopes of victory disappear.

Finland's Esapekka Lappi, winner of last month's Rally Sweden, suffered a transmission problem during SS5, while Estonian Ott Tanak went off the road on the following stage when in second spot.

The curse in Kenya appears to continue for Hyundai, which has only secured one podium at the Safari Rally since the event's return to the calendar three years ago, while Toyota has dominated on African tracks.

On Saturday drivers will compete in six stages with 160.96 timed kilometres.

Safari Rally Kenya standings:

1. Kalle Rovanpera (FIN/Toyota) 1hr 16min 22.6sec, 2. Elfyn Evans(GBR/Toyota) at 56.9sec, 3. Takamoto Katsuta (JPN/Toyota) at 1min 00.8sec, 4. Thierry Neuville (BEL/Hyundai) 1:07.3, 5. Adrien Fourmaux (FRA/M-Sport Ford) 1:46.6

Special stage winners:

Kalle Rovanpera (SS2, SS3, SS4, SS5, SS6, SS7), Thierry Neuville SES1)

Main retirements:

Esapekka Lappi (FIN/Hyundai) transmission failure SS5

Ott Tanak (EST/Hyundai) left the road SS6

nb/ea