Rovanpera sets pace as Ogier maintains Safari Rally lead after Saturday action

©Kalle Rovanpera /Toyota Gazoo

MOTORSPORTS Rovanpera sets pace as Ogier maintains Safari Rally lead after Saturday action

Festus Chuma 18:51 - 24.06.2023

Eight-time champion Ogier defends his lead while Rovanpera focuses on championship points

Eight-time world rally champion Sebastien Ogier maintained his lead in the 2023 WRC Safari Rally after an intense day of racing on Saturday. 

However, it was Kalle Rovanpera who stole the spotlight, setting the pace and asserting his position in the fight for the overall title.

Ogier, behind the wheel of the Toyota Yaris, showcased his skill and determination by dominating the opening Soysambu speed test, maintaining his pace throughout the day to secure a solid third-place finish at the final stage of Sleeping Warrior. 

Despite encountering challenges with two flat tires on the front, he holds a comfortable 16.7-second lead in the rally.

"Some sections were very slippery, and I was very cautious to be honest. On the last section [of Sleeping Warrior] with the stones, it's so easy to damage something,” Ogier said.

Rovanpera, the championship leader entering this seventh round, demonstrated his prowess by winning two of the morning's three speed tests. 

"I think we could push a bit more, but for sure Seb is pushing a lot for this win. In our case, we need to think about the championship also because the guys in the championship fight are much more behind us, and the good points are coming,” said the Finn.

Saturday morning's most dramatic moment unfolded when Elfyn Evans, also driving a Toyota, encountered water splash issues that had troubled the team in the previous round in Italy. 

This setback caused a brief halt in Evans' progress towards the end of Soysambu, resulting in a loss of approximately one minute. 

As a consequence, he slipped to fourth overall, trailing behind Hyundai's Esapekka Lappi, who showcased impressive speed. 

Just 5.5 seconds behind Evans was his teammate Takamoto Katsuta, who successfully closed the gap between himself and the sixth-placed Dani Sordo in the i20 N.

Meanwhile, M-Sport Ford duo Ott Tänak and Pierre-Louis Loubet, determined to bounce back from their disappointing Friday performances, held seventh and eighth positions, respectively. 

Additionally, Thierry Neuville, who retired on Friday due to suspension damage, also faced challenges as he spun during the race.

In the WRC2 category, Grégoire Munster continues to lead the pack, showcasing impressive skills. However, he faces mounting pressure from Kajetan Kajetanowicz, who is determined to make his mark while driving a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo.

As the Safari Rally reaches its climax, the battle for supremacy intensifies, with Ogier maintaining his lead but Rovanpera pushing to strengthen his grip on the championship.