LAPPI’S

WRC SUP­PORTS WALES DE­BUT PROVES CA­REER IS BACK ON TRACK There’s more than meets the eye to Lappi’s re­sults in 2016.

Motor Sport News - - Rally Gb Report - By Jack Benyon

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.

Lappi takeover

“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.

WRC3/JWRC

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.

Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com and Jakob Ebrey

Lappi flew af­ter his early tree ac­ci­dent Hot prop­erty: Lappi

Lappi over­came is­sues

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