WRC SUPPORTS WALES DEBUT PROVES CAREER IS BACK ON TRACK There’s more than meets the eye to Lappi’s results in 2016.
In 2015, Esapekka Lappi was one of the hottest properties in rallying. After serving his apprenticeship in the European championship, winning the title in 2014, he helped launch Skoda’s new R5 in Portugal last year and talks of a fourth VW Polo R WRC for the Finn were rife.
But, whatever the reason for that deal falling through, Lappi’s career had seemed to be in freefall ever since. On his opening WRC2 event of the season in Sweden, he made a mistake and he was in a bank. The results don’t show much in Sardinia or Poland either. But the 25-year-old Finn reckons after Sweden, his form has been as good than at any other point in his career.
“This season has been OK,” explained Lappi. “We have been leading every rally we have been to. OK, in Sweden I was in the snowbank and that was my fault, but in Sardinia it was a technical failure, and Poland it was bad luck with the puncture, otherwise it’s been good. I definitely feel like the pace has been there to win every rally.”
The obvious turnaround was Finland, where he blitzed the competitive WRC field on home ground. And with a Toyota seat in the WRC all-but sealed for next season, it looks like Lappi is back and better than ever. Nowhere was that more obvious than in Wales last weekend.
“Everything is under control,” said Lappi after a tough opening day. It was the perfect way to sum up Lappi’s path to victory in Wales, incredibly, his first time on the event. That is, apart from the first stage, where his rally nearly ended.
He set out in what was probably the most competitive WRC2 field ever assembled, full of drivers linked with works drives in 2017 and beyond.
But he had a disagreement with a tree. “I ran wide in a slow-speed corner and we hit a tree,” he explained. “But it’s OK, the corner was slow speed.”
The damage? A half-eaten Skoda Fabia and a 15.7s deficit to his closest WRC2 championship rival, Teemu Suninen. The fellow Finn, who won this event in the category last year in a Fabia S2000, was committed in the fog and reaped the rewards.
But it wasn’t long before Lappi struck back, he was 3s quicker in SS2 and 13s up in Hafren. He was emanating the kind of quiet confidence of a driver completely in control.
By Saturday, it was increasingly apparent Lappi had bolted like the proverbial horse, the way at which he brushed off losing half of his Fabia to the Myherin tree was chilling. Now, heading for Australia, a win or second on the WRC’S final round will give the Finn a WRC2 championship. Suninen will take the title if Lappi fails to meet that criteria.
Best of the rest
Someone not completely in control was Swede Pontus Tidemand. No heroics from Lappi’s teammate in the fog and a fairly conservative approach on day one meant he’d dropped a fair amount of time to the leaders by the regroup in Newtown.
The rest of the day belonged to Lappi. Tidemand took the final stage of the day but the four previously belonged to the Finn, who was under no pressure from Suninen. He’d spun three times in the afternoon alone and was struggling to replicate the flow he achieved in his driving last year. A strange and ominous knocking noise in the transmission in the Chester regroup left plenty to ponder for the next day. After all, his championship was on the line.
But Suninen had more worries. On Friday evening he pointed to the works Skodas of Jan Kopecky and Tidemand and the fact that they would be chasing him down.
Tidemand was on it. By the end of Saturday, the gap was down to 12.3s. Suninen was a sitting duck, and with an incredible powerstage time, Tidemand took second on the last stage with a time quicker than multiple WRCS including Kris Meeke.
Suninen had to settle for third, with Kopecky fourth and the outgoing Drive DMACK Fiesta Trophy champion Marius Aasen in fifth.
Hyundai R5 hell
It was a bad weekend for the UK debut of the Hyundai i20 R5. Kevin Abbring and Seb Marshall slipped off the road after a puncture on Friday morning, before transmission problems on Saturday morning ended the day. The car won all but one of the stages on Sunday, but Abbring slipped off the road on the powerstage and broke the suspension.
Slovakian Martin Koci won the Junior World Rally Championship class after finishing runner-up in 2014, his last time on the event. He beat this year’s champion Simone Tempestini and sealed second in the championship in the process.
Tempestini wrapped up the WRC3 title in Wales having already sealed the JWRC title in Corsica. The Italian lost his front brakes on Saturday and had to concede the event victory to Koci, but beat Michel Fabre to WRC3 honours after a gruelling season.
Lappi flew after his early tree accident Hot property: Lappi
Lappi overcame issues