Ogier heads Toyota 1-2-3-4 in Kenya!

Sebastien Ogier has summarized his imperious Safari Rally Kenya victory as: "a hell of a fight" after surviving probably the: "highest amount of things thrown at me" in a World Rally Championship event. The eight-time world champion and co-driver Vincent Landais scored their third win of 2023 but came under pressure from championship leader and team mate Kalle Rovanpera across Sunday's final six stages to clinch his third win of a partial 2023 WRC campaign by 6.7s. The margin was the closest in the event's 70-year history.

Ogier produced a faultless drive on Kenya's challenging, rough gravel stages, assuming the rally lead from M-Sport's Ott Tanak on Friday's morning first test, with road opener Rovanpera in second. The Frenchman enjoyed a near perfect Friday, winning four of the six stages, helped by an inspired call to take only one spare, instead of two, that lightened his GR Yaris. A lack of hybrid at the end of the morning loop was

But while Ogier led the event from stage two, the Frenchman encountered a series of problems that threatened to derail his victory hopes, as after a near-perfect Friday, winning four of the six stages the loss of hybrid power cost him time. On Saturday, he suffered three punctures including a double front puncture that occurred when heavy rain created chaos during stage 13. This, combined with a charging Rovanpera, reduced Ogier's commanding 32.0s lead to 16.7s heading into Sunday.

Rovanpera applied even more pressure to halve the deficit again on Sunday's first stage, before Ogier clipped a tree which removed the entire spoiler and tailgate of his GR Yaris, but Ogier was able to respond to win the next stage but in the penultimate stage his car began to overheat after ingesting Kenya's notorious sand. In the final stage a rock smashed his windscreen, but it failed to rob him of a hard-fought victory.

Ogier's victory headed an impressive Toyota 1-2-3-4 completed by Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta. It is the second year in succession that Toyota has achieved this feat in Kenya, which follows an identical triumph recorded in 1993. Toyota boss Jari-Matti Latvala was surprised to repeat last year's result, but attributed the success to lessons learned from Toyota's strong pedigree at the event in the 1980s and 1990s: "When we won this 1-2-3-4 last year I thought it was something that takes decades to win, but it has happened one year later," said genial Toyota team principal Latvala.

Stop Press - subsequent news from Kenya is, Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe have lost eighth place and the five bonus points for winning the rally-ending powerstage after FIA stewards determined that a "person connected with the crew travelled on or over the route of two Special Stages, after reconnaissance, without authorisation." Neuville admitted in a stewards hearing "that he was aware of the identified person and that he had requested this person's support in identifying specific concerns in some special stages," and apologised for his lapse in judgement.

26th June, 2023