The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team is celebrating victory in the first Safari Rally Kenya to be held as part of the FIA World Rally Championship for nearly 20 years. Sebastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia pulled off a superb fightback to take their fourth win from six events and extend their championship lead, while Takamoto Katsuta scored his first ever WRC podium to complete a one-two finish for the Toyota Yaris WRC.
The event lived up to its reputation as an extremely demanding rally, with many of the crews experiencing difficulties over the weekend. Ogier was seventh overall and more than two minutes off the lead after suffering an issue on Friday morning, but he charged back through the field.
He was third overall going into the final day, consisting of five short but very challenging stages. Already in the first stage of the day, trouble befell the erstwhile leader, and this promoted Katsuta into the lead of a rally for the first time, with Ogier close behind.
With just two stages to go the Toyota pair were tied on overall time, and were able to compete fully with each other for the win right until the finish. Ogier claimed his seventh stage win of the weekend to move ahead before the one-two finish – the fourth such result for Toyota this season — was secured in the rally-ending Power Stage. The victory is the ninth claimed by Toyota in the history of the Safari Rally.
Taking two additional bonus points in the Power Stage, Ogier’s championship lead is now up to 34 points ahead of team-mate Elfyn Evans, who remains second in the standings.
Katsuta’s maiden podium finish is a landmark result for the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRC Challenge Program, which has helped to develop the Japanese driver’s talent since 2015.
All four Toyota Yaris WRC crews finished inside the top 10. Kalle Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen were in the battle for the lead on Friday before becoming stuck in deep ruts in the day’s final stage. They could still finish sixth overall, and took second in the Power Stage.
Evans and co-driver Scott Martin retired in Friday’s second stage but restarted on Saturday, and on Sunday they climbed back into 10th place overall as well as taking third in the Power Stage.
These points mean the team has further increased its lead in the manufacturers’ standings to 59 points at the halfway stage of the season.
Akio Toyoda (Team Founder)
“Seb and Julien, congratulations! To our fans, thank you very much for your strong support!
However, please allow me to let out this feeling first today:
Takamoto, it was fantastic! I’m very happy with what he has achieved. He started the final day ahead of Seb, kept running for the victory and finally stood on the podium. It was so impressive that I was shaking. Since this afternoon, I have been communicating with his father a lot. Both of us were so anxious and not able to do anything else. I am lucky that I was off today. He has completed the rally on those very harsh roads which he has never experienced before, fighting for victory with the world’s top drivers. I think, in this rally alone, he has grown up a lot more than he did before. There are six rallies left in this season, and the last one is Rally Japan. It is going to be very exciting.
In this rally, I also recognized again how strong a driver Seb is. It was easy to imagine the roughness of the roads in Kenya. Due to his excellent tyre management skills, he caught Takamoto and overtook him in the last three stages. I am very thankful that we have this respected driver in our team and his presence leads to the progress of other team members as well.
I would also like to express my appreciation to all of the team. A WRC round was held in Kenya for the first time after 19 years. It was the first experience for everybody. Thanks to engineers who kept analyzing the information from recce, the crews could drive with confidence. Our success in Kenya was because of every single member both on-site and in Finland.
And of course, my appreciation also goes to Elfyn, Scott, Kalle and Jonne too. Even after they unfortunately had to retire during Friday, they kept on sharing information to the team, which made Seb and Takamoto successful. I promise we improve our rally cars for the second half of the season so that they feel more confident in return for their teamwork.
President Kenyatta made a heartwarming welcome and a strong support for the rally. I also felt a welcoming atmosphere as a country, watching children waving and animals running. I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere gratitude to everyone in Kenya. I hope we will also welcome many rally drivers at Rally Japan with this kind of warm atmosphere.
Finally, I offer my appreciation to our family members in Africa, Toyota Tsusho who supported and cheered the team. They also shared what’s happening in the rally with us every time. Thanks to them, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing enjoyed the road in Kenya with confidence like another home country.
Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal)
“This is a really special day at the end of an amazing weekend. After Friday it was looking tough for us, and now we have a one-two finish on this classic rally, the first for almost 20 years in the WRC. The victory was based on the endurance and the consistency that we showed, as well as the never give-up attitude and the commitment of the team. When Seb had his problem he stayed calm and when he saw the chance he attacked and took the victory. I am also very happy to see Takamoto on the podium for the first time. The steps he has been taking have been amazing and he really deserves this result.”
Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 1)
“It feels amazing to win the Safari Rally. I didn’t think it was still possible after our trouble on Friday, but I always give my best up to the end to take the maximum points possible, and in Safari we knew many things can happen – and they did happen. I think that since our issue on Friday we’ve been very strong for the rest of the weekend. We had really good pace and the car has been amazing. It’s a huge step for both championships, so a very good day for the team. I also want to congratulate Taka who took an amazing result: It was not that easy to catch him at the end.”
Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)
“Today we were looking for points and we gave it a good go in the Power Stage, although it was very difficult to judge where the grip was. It’s disappointing to only come away from here with a few points after the error on Friday. But it was good to drive most of the stages and gain experience of this event for the future, and now we have to look forward and focus on Estonia. Credit to the team and to Seb for the victory, and I’m really happy to see Taka and Dan on the podium as well.”
Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)
“I had been waiting for the chance to go for some extra points in the Power Stage, and we had quite a good run. It was a big push, and with two hard tyres on the car it was not the best option. We were quite close to taking the maximum points, but four points was still really good. Overall it was a difficult weekend and not what I was hoping for, but the team did a great job to keep the car going, so thank you to them.”
PROVISIONAL FINAL CLASSIFICATION, SAFARI RALLY KENYA
1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3h18m11.3s
2 Takamoto Katsuta/Dan Barritt (Toyota Yaris WRC) +21.8s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m09.5s
4 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m54.6s
5 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m54.7s
6 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC) +10m53.4s
7 Onkar Rai/Drew Sturrock (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5) +29m26.4s
8 Karan Patel/Tauseef Khan (Ford Fiesta R5) +33m30.4s
9 Carl Tundo/Tim Jessop (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5) +36m40.7s
10 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC) +49m22.7s
(For the latest results please visit www.wrc.com)