Ott Tänak was out of the rankings at the end of Safari Rally Kenya, having been as high as third place earlier in the event, following a steering issue on the 17th stage (of 19), which forced him and co-driver Martin Järveoja to drop out.
The rally, which reappeared on the WRC calendar last year after an 18-year hiatus, saw Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja going into the weekend off the back of their win at the last race, in Sardinia at the start of the month, and lying in third place in the championship table.
Tänak ended up being plagued with mechanical issues in the Kenyan dust all weekend – while he limped home on day two after a gearstick snapped in the Hyundai i20, both day three (gearbox) and day four (steering) were cut short.
The race belonged to Toyota, who took a clean sweep of the top four places; racewinner Kalle Rovanperä has extended his lead at the top of the 2022 WRC drivers' table as a result of claiming his fourth victory of the season.
Welshman Elfyn Evans, Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta and reigning and eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier were second, third and fourth for Toyota respectively.
Tänak's teammate at Hyundai, Belgian Thierry Neuville, was the highest-placing non-Toyota man in fifth place, with Irishman Craig Breen the first finisher for M-Sport Ford a place below Neuville.
Sunday morning, June 26
Rovanperä took the first and second stages of the day, and while Tänak was able to get his first and only stage win of the event on the very next stage, the 10.53km Hell's Gate stage, following the maintenance break he was unable to complete the next stage due to the steering issues noted.
Saturday, June 25
Finn Kalle Rovanperä (Toyota) was in the lead overnight Saturday to Sunday, with Toyota teammate Elfyn Evans (Wales) and Tänak's teammate Thierry Neuville, who pinched a top-three spot from Toyota's Takamoto Katsuta at the final hurdle (which was actually contested by Toyota over the issue of dust from the driver preceding Katsuta, Craig Breen).
French legends, the two Sebastiens, Ogier and Loeb, were in fourth (Ogier, Toyota) and ninth (Loeb, M-Sport Ford) respectively.
While of the two, only Loeb has won a race so far this season – round one, in Monte Carlo, back in January – the pair have all bar one of the overall WRC drivers' titles between them going back to 2004, when Loeb won his first title. Tänak, who won the 2019 season, is the only driver to have broken that cycle.
During the third stage of Saturday, dubbed "Sleeping Warrior" – the 10th in the rally overall and the last before lunch – Tänak was on the hunt for his first stage victory and, while he seemed on course for this in the times he put in at each interval, had to stop a little over one-and-a-half kilometers before the end of the 30km stage.
Tänak was quick to point out that the issue was with the car and not the arduous and dusty conditions in Kenya; the previous day he and co-driver Martin Järveoja had had to struggle to complete a stage after the gearstick broke off, but made it.
However, this time, the pair had to pull out for the rest of the day, following a Hyundai announcement to that effect.
By the end of the day's events, Tänak and Järveoja lay in 10th place, 40.20.8 minutes behind Rovanperä.
Others to come to grief on the Saturday include Englishmen Gus Greensmith and Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux, both of them with M-Sport Ford.
Six more stages follow on Sunday, totaling 82.7km in length.
Friday, June 24
At the end of the day's events, the Estonian was third overall, 25.3 seconds behind race leader, Toyota driver Kalle Rovanperä (Finland)
Elfyin Evans came in in second place for Toyota, while another Toyota man, Takamoto Katsuta, was fourth, and Tänak's teammate at Hyundai Thierry Neuville placed fifth. Sebastien Ogier is sixth in the Toyota Yaris.
Eight-time champion, Frenchman Sebastien Ogier (Toyota), won the opening stage on Thursday evening, followed by Tänak, then Welshman Elfyn Evans (Toyota) and the other Sebastien, veteran driver and nine-time champion Sebastien Loeb (France, M-Sport Ford), followed by Toyota's Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta.
The tough conditions tested drivers thoroughly on Friday and will continue to do so through to Sunday, while Tänak, who finished third at the event last year, said he was looking forward to the challenge.
That challenge wasn't long in the coming, when the Estonian's gear stick broke on the Hyundai i20 Friday morning, meaning he had to struggle to finish the stage, using a wheel wrench as a makeshift gear lever on the next pass, rising to fifth on the stage, then second on the third pass.
Tänak joked of the incident that perhaps automatic gearboxes would be easier, noting that Järveoja probably put the broken gearstick somewhere.
The pair rose to seventh after that stage and going in to the maintenance break – during which the gear lever issue can be fixed – while Loeb had to drop out due to engine troubles, promoting them to seventh place at lunchtime.
"I'm proud that we were able to finish the last attempt. I don't know what happened in the meantime, because the track is very poor. The road is very soft and as the sand is constantly flying up, visibility is very poor and I have no idea where we are going," Tänak said.
Later on, Tänak and Järvoja rose to fifth, and then third by day's end.
Other drivers to have issues included Englishman Gus Greensmith (M-Sport Ford) who had a rear tire burst, and Tänak's teammates at Hyundai, Thierry Neuville (Belgium) and Oliver Solberg (Sweden/Norway).
This article was updated to include Friday through to Sunday's events and stages.
Editor: Andrew Whyte