WRC is Back in Africa; Toyota Dominates
The Kenyan leg of the WRC is an iconic race, often considered the most demanding drive on the calendar, and this year was no different. The rally was demanding on the cars, teams and drivers, but one team dealt with the conditions better than any other. The Toyota team dominated this leg, and it was an impressive spectacle, to say the least.
The first day of the rally allowed drivers to get to grips with their cars and the terrain in the shakedown. Last year's champion, Kalle Rovanpera, showed a promising start by laying down the fastest time of the day and giving Toyota a good start. The shakedown did, however, see the most spectacular incident of the week by Katsuta Takamoto, who wildly crashed his Yaris after a jump, leading to a massive roll.
The first day of racing on the 22nd of June was a scene which set the tone for the remainder of the weekend. The Super Special Kasarai stage is a single stage that prepared the world with expectations for the coming weekend of racing. This saw Ford driver Ott Tanak take the top of the leaderboard and gave Ford the confidence they needed. However, this was to be short-lived.
The 23rd of June brought six incredible stages as drivers tackled Loldia, Geothermal and Kedong. The day concluded with all four Toyota drivers sitting in the top five, with three taking podium positions. Sebastien Ogier in first, Kalle Rovanpera in second and Elfyn Evans in third.
Day three hosted a selection of long flat stretches of wilderness, zebras filling the roads and rain later in the day, catching most drivers off guard. The mud was incredibly thick, and cars gracefully slid off the trail, providing an almost comical image as the cars slid out of control.
This day consisted of another six stages, including Soysambu, Elmenteita and the increasingly popular Sleeping Warrior. Evans had an unfortunate issue from a water crossing early in the day, forcing him down the leaderboard. After settling the car and a long day of fighting, he managed to claw his way back.
Hyundai's Esapekka Lappi had a promising start to day three, and by SS10, he was sitting comfortably in 3rd. The afternoon was less fortunate for the Fin, as an incident at SS11 forced the driver out of the race with a terminal technical issue. Allowing for a full Toyota 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th as the third day ended.
The last day of racing was dominated by Toyota as the drivers tackled Malewa, Oserian and Hell's Gate. The top five remained unchanged as the rally ended, with Sebastien Ogier leading the pack, followed by Kalle Rovanpera, then Elfyn Evans and lastly, Takamoto Katsuta. The day was incredible as the cars displayed their rugged strength and lightning-fast abilities. The traffic in the town of Naivasha did cause some delays as the nation turned out to witness the podium celebration, including the president of Kenya himself.
As the rain fell over the podium, the energy in the Toyota team was electric, as they achieved a dominating result. The landscape and the cars were breathtaking, but the WRC has yet to conclude, with seven more nations on the calendar. For now, I think you can guess the team that my bet is on.