Nairobi — World rally champion Kalle Rovanpera believes Hyundai drivers will pose the biggest threat to his Toyota Gazoo racing team at this weekend’s World Rally Championships (WRC) Safari Rally in Naivasha.
Rovanpera said their rivals’ impressive performance at the Rally of Sardegna in Italy shows that the South Korean-based car manufacturer is one to watch in Kenya as Toyota seek to continue their winning run at the Safari Rally.
“Definitely, it won’t be as easy as last year. Hyundai seems to be really strong as we saw in Sardegna. It will be a much more tough fight this year,” the Finn said.
Belgian Timothy Neuville and his Finnish counterpart, Esapekka Lappi took the top two podium places in Italy as Rovanpera came third in the rally held earlier this month.
Rovanpera won last year’s Safari Rally, leading a 1-2-3-4 finish for Toyota Gazoo, succeeding teammate Sebastien Ogier who won the previous edition in 2021.
Going into Thursday — the official flag-off for the Safari Rally at Uhuru Park — Rovanpera believes he’s better prepared for the world’s toughest rally following the experiences of the past two editions.
“I am feeling really confident…I have always done very well here although in the first year, we had some issues and we got stuck in the sand. All in all, I still feel quite good,” Rovanpera, who boasts nine rally wins in his young career, said.
The 22-year-old says he is looking forward to an exciting time in Naivasha, the changes in the terrain notwithstanding.
“There are a lot of changes compared to last year…there has been a lot of rain. A lot of sand and gravel has been washed away so it is really rough…there are a lot of stones around and its much more rough than last year. Of course, some of the parts have been improved, which is good so we need to balance it all out,” he said.
Rovanpera added: “The fesh fesh is a little bit less. Most of it has been removed but we still have some tricky sections remaining.”
Other drivers who will be flying the Toyota flag at the global showpiece include Ogier, Briton Elfyn Evans and the 2021 Safari Rally runner-up, Katsuta Takamoto of Japan.