Toyota Gazoo Racing claimed a historic result at the legendary Safari Rally Kenya with Kalle Rovanperä leading a clean sweep of the top four positions for the GR Yaris Rally1 car.
Welshman Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta joined him on the podium, with Sébastien Ogier finishing fourth.
It is a landmark 10th victory for Toyota on the famous African event, and the first time it has achieved a 1-2-3-4 finish in the World Rally Championship since the 1993 Safari Rally.
In its second running since returning to the WRC calendar last year, the Safari delivered even tougher conditions, including deep ‘fesh-fesh’ sand on Friday and wet and muddy surfaces on Saturday, in addition to the ever-present rocks and stones.
It was by far the hardest challenge yet for the new generation of hybrid-powered Rally1 cars, but the GR Yaris remained reliable and dominated the weekend without any major issues. The next best-placed car finished eight-and-a-half minutes adrift of the Toyota quartet.
Rovanperä had an early scare when he ran wide on the very first corner on Thursday’s opening super special in Nairobi and knocked a tyre off its rim. But he and co-driver Jonne Halttunen ran faultlessly thereafter on the way to their fourth victory in five rounds, increasing their championship lead to 65 points.
Evans and his co-driver Scott Martin also performed superbly and ran their team-mates close for the victory, remaining within 20 seconds of the lead until rain fell Saturday afternoon. They finished 52.8s away as they scored their second podium of the season.
TGR WRC Challenge Program driver Katsuta drove an excellent rally to claim his second career podium and a maiden podium for his co-driver Aaron Johnston. The pair competed under the TGR World Rally Team Next Generation banner.
Ogier, the 2021 Safari winner, led for most of Friday before having to stop and change a tyre on the day’s final stage, losing more than two minutes.
He and co-driver Benjamin Veillas fought back to fourth overall and, with their team-mates focused on reaching their finish, set the third-fastest time in the rally-ending Power Stage to add to the team’s points haul from the weekend. Toyota’s manufacturers’ championship lead has increased to 62 points.
Afterwards, Elfyn (above) said in an interview, “It’s been a really nice weekend.
“Of course, we really wanted to fight for the win, but that slipped away from us on Saturday with one thing or another, and today was about securing this 1-2-3-4 for Toyota Gazoo Racing which is obviously a fantastic result to be a part of.
“It was a tough fight to get through this extreme terrain here in Kenya and while everybody else has struggled, our cars have really come through it so a big well done to the team.”
The hotly-anticipated battle with compatriot Sébastien Loeb never materialised either, as the nine-time world champion retired his M-Sport Ford Puma with engine woes on Friday.
Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville was over 10 minutes behind in fifth overall despite incurring a 10min penalty when he crashed his i20 N into a tree and failed to finish Saturday’s Sleeping Warrior finale. He retained second in the championship and collected five bonus points for winning the Wolf Power Stage.
Craig Breen was M-Sport Ford’s leading driver in sixth despite nursing suspension problems in his Puma. He gained the position when Oliver Solberg stopped in the middle of the road with an air filter full of dust, causing the cancellation of Sunday’s opener.
The championship returns to Europe when Rally Estonia (14 – 17 July) kicks-off the second half of the season.
Safari Rally Final positions:
1. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota GR Yaris 3hr 40min 20.4sec
2. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota GR Yaris +52.8sec
3. T Katsuta / A Johnston JPN Toyota GR Yaris +1min 42.7sec
4. S Ogier / B Veillas FRA Toyota GR Yaris +2min 10.3sec
5. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe BEL Hyundai i20 N +10min 40.9sec
6. C Breen / P Nagle IRL Ford Puma +23min 27.9sec