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Rovanpera steers clear of trouble to maintain Kenya Rally lead

Kalle Rovanpera is poised to open his 2024 WRC account in Kenya (LUIS TATO)
Kalle Rovanpera is poised to open his 2024 WRC account in Kenya (LUIS TATO)

Kalle Rovanpera seamlessly steered his Toyota over unforgiving terrain to maintain his grip on the Safari Rally Kenya on Saturday as his Welsh teammate Elfyn Evans had a day to forget.

Three punctures cost Evans dear, and he dropped from second overnight to fourth, over three and a half minutes from Rovanpera.

The 23-year-old Finn goes into Sunday's closing five stages with a 2min 17.7sec cushion over another Toyota contender, Japan's Takamoto Katsuta.

"The lead is now quite good, so of course we took it carefully," reflected the two-time world champion.

"It's not so enjoyable when you have a big lead and in a stage like (Sleeping Warrior) you just go around every rock, it's scary. Tomorrow is still a tough day and we will try to finish the job."

Rovanpera followed up Friday's clean sweep of six stages with just one more on the penultimate day.

Rovapenra, who has elected not to compete in all the rallies on the 2024 calendar, is on target for his first win of the season after skipping the season-opening monte Carlo and retiring from the Rally of Sweden.

Evans, placed second overnight, was left frustrated by three punctures in stages nine, 10 and 13.

Hyundai's championship leader Thierry Neuville briefly moved up to second but then had his hopes of Kenya glory on Sunday dented with a mechanical issue.

That dropped him to fifth, more than 11 minutes off the pace.

Safari Rally Kenya standings on Saturday:

1. Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (FIN/Toyota) 2hr 28min 22.4sec, 2. Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (JPN-IRL/ Toyota) at 2:17.7, 3. Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (FRA/M-Sport Ford) 2:52.4, Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (GBR/Toyota) 3:35.1, 5. Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL/Hyundai) 11:07.5

Main retirements:

Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (FIN/Hyundai), Ott Tänak/Martin Jarveoja (EST/Hyundai)

Special stage winners:

Kalle Rovanpera (SS2, SS3, SS4, SS5, SS6, SS7, SS10), Thierry Neuville (SS1, sS9), Takamoto Tatsuta (SS8, SS11), Elfyn Evans (SS12), Ott Tanak (SS13).

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