Rally News

Rovanpera stuns rivals to lead as Neuville suffers puncture

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Two-time world champion Rovanpera, making the second start of a partial WRC campaign, managed to tame an at times ill-handling GR Yaris to open up a 15.5s lead over Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi.

Ott Tanak headed to midday service in third [+16.8s] ahead of Toyota pair Takamoto Katsuta [+41.3s] and Elfyn Evans [+43.1s], with Neuville sixth [+48.0s] after a tyre drama. The top eight was completed by M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux [+1m14.6s] and Gregoire Munster [+2m23.8s.].

Hot and dry conditions kicked off Friday’s leg and while the weather was stable the majority of Rally1 drivers struggled to find the balance in their cars on the rough gravel in stage two [Loldia, 191.7km].

Rovanpera was among those particularly unhappy with his car, but the Finn was able to win the stage despite a left-rear tyre coming off the rim at the stage end. The world champion emerged from the dust 0.9s faster than Hyundai’s Lappi.

“I don’t want to say any really bad words, but it was horrible,” said Rovanpera, who moved into a 1.4s overall lead over Tanak. “The car is understeering so much, I don’t understand how we can do any time on this stage. We need to improve.”   

Lappi also suffered from understeer in his i20 N and was joined by team-mates Tanak and Neuville, who were also not best pleased with the handling of their cars.

“Genuinely low grip, somehow really struggling. It is very hard at the moment, the car is not working at all,” said Tanak, who was third fastest.

Overnight leader Neuville said the stage was a “reminder of how hard” the event will be, as he dropped 2.6s.      

His title rival Evans found the going to be much worse as the Welshman, struggling for balance, clocked a time 11.8s adrift of the pace. The Toyota driver did however suffer a slow puncture.

Fourmaux was seventh fastest in the first of the M-Sport Ford Pumas ahead of team-mate Gregoire Munster.  

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

The brutal nature of the Safari Rally was felt in stage three [Geothermal, 13.12km]. Championship leader Neuville clipped some loose rocks on the side of the road which resulted in a right-rear puncture.

Neuville dropped 19.9s and slipped to fifth overall, but he fared much better than WRC2 runner Oliver Solberg who was forced to change a wheel a kilometres into the test and lost 3m32s.  

The stage was topped by…

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