Despite the continuous blows suffered, soft tyres ensure reliability and grip in grounds made tougher by rain

Toyota hits the jackpot in a never predictable race that exceeded expectations in terms of difficulty and pitfalls

Testoni: 'I thought the Scorpions had passed all the tests in the world championship, but I was wrong: a Safari rally like this was missing'

As it did last year, Toyota kicked off the poker at the Safari Rally Kenya 2023, which did not disappoint expectations in terms of spectacle and above all difficulty, which also exceeded the already pessimistic forecasts. As Pirelli's engineers had pointed out in their pre-race analysis, the 2023 edition of the African rally proved to be tougher and full of pitfalls than those of recent years, thanks above all to the rain that made the road surfaces extremely muddy and often marshy, even though they were destined to dry quickly, passage after passage. The rain effect, however, went beyond the mud and the increased slipperiness of surfaces already characterized by poor grip: it brought out even more of the sharp rocks typical of Kenya, which tormented the mechanical parts of the cars, the rims and the tyres. In all the special stages, the soft tyres provided the necessary grip even on the slipperiest surfaces and withstood the enormous number of blows they suffered.

It was precisely the rain, on Saturday's very hard day, that seemed to have reopened the fate of the race, dominated up to that point by Sebastien Ogier, in favour of reigning world champion Kalle Rovanpera, who in the last special stage (SS13, the longest of the rally) had halved the disadvantage. The Finn was in fact bable to take advantage of the last-place start and the terrain that dried quickly during the course of a stage, that for his rivals had been full of mud, fords and flooded ruts. But it wasn't enough: the Frenchman was able to catch up on the closing day, on paper least demanding, after having lost a little ground in the first stage of the morning, Malewa 1, the most treacherous of the entire rally, made even more difficult by the heavy overnight rain and the resulting mud.  

From the point of view of tyre strategy, soft Scorpions were inevitably the only choice, just as common was the number of spares brought to the race by all Rally1 drivers, namely two.  However, there were no shortage of important exceptions. Starting with the last section on Sunday when many drivers, aiming for powerstage points, brought just one spare tyre (Dani Sordo, Thierry Neuville, Ogier) and as many as four in the case of Esapekka Lappi.

Different choices were also made in Friday's sections. In the morning, some drivers went out with just one spare, while in the afternoon only Ogier took the risk of tackling the day's second passes with just one tyre in the boot. It was a gamble that proved to be a winner and in fact constituted the turning point of the entire race: the lower weight allowed Ogier to take the lead over Rovanpera and consolidate his advantage.

Terenzio Testoni, Pirelli Rally activity manager: "We thought the Scorpion Softs, by far the most widely used tyre type this season and last, had seen it all. But no, the real mud was missing, abundant and deep, like the one we encountered in this edition of the Kenya Rally, which was decidedly harder than those of 2021 and 2022, although in line with the Safari's reputation for difficulty. The Scorpions provided grip even in these conditions, where the mud was the mainstay, and at the same time withstood constant knocks. I must say that I have rarely in my career seen all the tyres marked by bumps and cuts, as I did in this race: in the inspection at the end of the day there was not one tyre that did not show superficial wounds of some kind.  Nevertheless, the Scorpion Soft tyres once again confirmed their reliability and robustness, combined with the performance characteristics expected of a soft tyre. Having also passed this test in Kenya, the championship can now be said to be on its way downhill for the soft gravel tyres”.

In RC2, Kajetan Kajetanowicz in a Skoda Fabia Rally2 came out on top.

Below is a graphic summary of the Kenya Rally.