Lappi grabs Rally Finland lead from Latvala

2017-07-29 16:55:02
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Toyota's flying Finns are battling hard at the head of the Rally Finland field and, in only his fourth outing in the Yaris WRC, Esapekka Lappi inched ahead of his vastly experienced teammate Jari-Matti Latvala during Saturday afternoon's loop of stages.

Lappi has never been far from Latvala's tail, but an all-out attack in SS10 saw him move ahead and then extend his advantage to overnight 4.4 seconds ahead on his home round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Finns hold the top three positions on the leaderboard with another young sensation, Teemu Suninen, in the final provisional podium position in a Fiesta WRC. Remarkably, all but one of today's fastest times also belongs to the locals with Lappi, Latvala and Suninen sharing the forest stage wins before Thierry Neuville won the final street test in Jyvaskyla.

Latvala headed Lappi by 1.6 seconds after the opening seven stages and the teammates continued their epic fight heading into the afternoon stages. Suninen set the pace in the opener, but Lappi took another stage win in the second to close to within 1.1 seconds of Latvala.

In the following longest test of the day, however, Lappi gave it everything, knowing he could push on this particular stage. The young Finn was rewarded not only with fastest time but also the overall rally lead for the first time in his career. Pushing hard, he was close to an off in the next stage but held his nerve to top the classification and give Toyota an impressive one-two on its home event.

"I couldn't imagine we'd be leading – it's really something special," mused Lappi.

Latvala maintained focus but has made a couple of small mistakes which, while aiding Lappi's charge, take nothing away from a highly impressive performance by the youngster. Suninen has been another notable performer in only his second event in the 2017-spec Fiesta and two stage wins have helped the former WRC 2 Championship driver power into third, despite a couple of small mistakes in the final forest stage.

Craig Breen has run has high as third in the lead Citroen C3 WRC but the Irish driver is fourth overnight. He lost the brakes this afternoon and then made a mistake with the launch control on the start line of SS11, leaving him down on boost for nearly a kilometer. He is nevertheless heading the challenge for the French manufacturer, teammate Kris Meeke down in ninth, just not finding the feeling or confidence. He also hit a stone and damaged the steering, adding further woes.

After an uneventful morning, Juho Hanninen hit a rock and has carried suspension damage through the afternoon stages. While he managed to affect some repairs, he was lucky to reach the sanctuary of service in fifth position this evening. Mads Ostberg has also carried an unconfirmed problem through the afternoon, possibly related to a driveshaft, but has done what he can to complete the day.

Elfyn Evans is seventh, happier with the setup of the Fiesta this afternoon and is just one-tenth of a second adrift of the Norwegian.

After Ogier's retirement this morning, Neuville really needed to capitalize as far as championship points are concerned. Despite feeling he's driving well, the times are not coming, however, and the Belgium is down in a disappointing eighth but aiming for a place in the top five by the end of the rally. Behind ninth-placed Meeke, Ott Tanak has moved ahead of Dani Sordo and the pair round off the top 11.

In the FIA WRC 2 Championship, Finland's Jari Huttunen heads the challenge and is nearly a minute ahead of Quentin Gilbert after winning a string of stages this afternoon. Nicolas Ciamin leads the Junior WRC crews with Terry Folb and Dennis Radstrom second and third, respectively.