Dramatic return to Safari Rally Kenya sees TOYOTA GAZOO Racing accomplish another astounding one-two finish

12 July 2021 | Article

The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team achieved another one-two win on 24-27 June. It was the first Safari Rally Kenya to be held as part of the FIA World Rally Championship in nearly 20 years. Despite this, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing managed to deliver the astounding results with Sébastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia taking their fourth win of the season and extending their championship lead. Meanwhile, stablemate Takamoto Katsuta and co-driver Dan Barritt took their first ever WRC podium to complete the one-two victory.

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Infamous safari conditions prove a challenge from the beginning

The conditions of the Safari Rally Kenya proved worthy of their reputation, with many of the crews experiencing difficulties during the four days. The leading driver Sébastien Ogier was not immune to these, after experiencing a technical issue on Friday morning. He finished the day seventh overall, two minutes off the lead – but from this point onwards, he made up for the shortfall by charging through field.

Ogier improved to third going into the final day, by driving well over five extremely challenging but short stages. This was despite encountering trouble in the first stage, meaning that Ogier finished second and Katsuta took the rally lead for the very first time.

From there, a competition between stablemates commenced as the Toyota pair were tied on overall time and there were just two stages left. The pair competed for first place, but ultimately it was Ogier who claimed the victory with a strong performance in the rally-ending Power Stage, his seventh stage win of the weekend.

This enabled Toyota to take two additional bonus points in the Power Stage, while Ogier’s championship lead is now up to 34 points ahead of team-mate Elfyn Evans, who remains second in the standings. It was also the fourth one-two finish for Toyota this season and Toyota’s ninth victory at Safari Rally Kenya.

Ogier said: “It feels amazing to win the Safari Rally. 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 Takamoto (Katsuta) who took an amazing result: It was not that easy to catch him at the end.” 

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Maiden podium finish along with disappointment for two stablemates

Takamoto Katsuta reached the podium for the first time, following a successful drive in the grueling conditions of Kenya for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, where he finished second. Team founder, Akio Toyoda, commented: “I’m very happy with what he has achieved. He started the final day ahead of Sebastian (Ogier), kept running for the victory and finally stood on the podium... 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.”

The two remaining crews, featuring drivers Kalle Rovanperä and Elfyn Evans, had a tougher time – however all four Toyota Yaris WRC crews finished inside the top 10.

For Kalle Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen, their battle for the lead ended in Friday’s last stage, after they became stuck in deep ruts. Their determined efforts still paid off, however, because they finished sixth overall and took second in the Power Stage.

Rovanperä said: “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.”

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Elfyn Evans and co-driver Scott Martin were forced to retire after hitting a rock on the inside of the corner during Friday’s second stage. By Saturday, the pair had restarted and were able to climb back to 10th place overall. The pair even took third in the Power Stage, and at the halfway point in the season this has further increased the team’s manufacturers’ standings lead to 59 points.

Evans said: “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 Sebastian (Ogier) for the victory, and I’m really happy to see Takamoto (Katsuta) and Dan (Barritt) on the podium as well.”

Toyoda commended Elfyn, Scott, Kalle and Jonne, who despite having to retire on Friday were able to support the team, by sharing information which led to the one-two victory with Ogier and Katsuta. He also paid tribute to President Kenyatta, who provided a heart-warming welcome for all and a strong support for the rally.

Toyoda said, “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.”

The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team will return soon, as the FIA World Rally Championship returns to Rally Estonia on 15-18 July. The route features fast and smooth gravel roads with many crests and jumps and a few technical sections to navigate around.

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