Lappi scores 'amazing' Rally Finland win

2017-07-30 16:50:25

Toyota rookie Esapekka Lappi held his nerve over the closing stages of Rally Finland to take a remarkable win in only his fourth event in a World Rally Championship car. Despite a late scare in the penultimate stage, the Finn claimed victory on home soil by 36 seconds while an epic battle for second position also raged behind them. Elfyn Evans made an amazing recovery after the opening day and fought to the end to claim second, overhauling Juho Hanninen and Kaj Lindstrom by just three-tenths of a second.

Sunday covered just two loops of two identical stages and Lappi had a mere 33.84 competitive kilometers to secure the win. The 26-year-old Finn started the day with 49.1 seconds in hand after teammate Jari-Matti Latvala was forced to retire yesterday while leading. Lappi could afford to drop time to his rivals today and tried to drive at a measured pace, but after a faultless rally he had a late scare in the penultimate stage when he clouted something and broke a wheel. A quick wheel change and refocus held the young Finn in good stead however and he powered to an emotional victory in the Yaris WRC, the car's second win in its debut season.

"At the moment the feelings are that I’m really relieved and energy is going down, like always after a weekend – especially after a victory as all the pressure is going away," related Lappi. "But it’s really something special. I really couldn’t imagine that it happened so early – I imagined that the podium was the best that we were going to get and it's amazing!"

photo transcript 22Evans went into the final day fourth, fighting hard for the final podium position. With setup changes during the weekend and differing road and weather conditions, the Welshman was able to improve significantly every day and when Teemu Suninen and Hanninen both dropped time he was able to capitalize on his position and climb to second. Hanninen's time loss was as a consequence of hitting a haybale, but the Finn still managed to hold on for his first WRC podium position

Behind the leading trio, Teemu Suninen suffered disappointment; the Finn – second starting the day – had to give it everything and paid the price with a massive spin. He dropped from second to fourth instantly but could take solace with a strong result  in only his second event in a World Rally car.

Craig Breen once again finished fifth and was the lead Citroen, his teammate Kris Meeke glad to put a tortuous weekend of handling issues behind him after finishing eighth. Neuville eventually finished sixth in the Hyundai, all three i20 WRCs struggling with setup in Finland. With the additional points scored in the Power Stage though, the most important thing for the Belgian was closing the points deficit to Ogier.

Ott Tanak's strategy to save his tires for the Power Stage paid off and he took the maximum points and finished seventh overall. Behind eighth-placed Meeke, Dani Sordo was ninth and pleased to put a difficult event behind him, and Mads Ostberg rounded off the top 10, claiming it was one of his best performances.

In the championship standings, Sebastien Ogier's retirement paved the way for second-placed Thierry Neuville to capitalize. While the Belgian didn't have a great weekend, a sixth-place result and additional Power Stage points sufficed to put him on equal points with Ogier at the head of the leaderboard. With three wins to his name, against Ogier's two, Neuville will head the field into the next round of the series in Germany. 

In the Manufacturers' Championship, again Ogier's exit was looking bad for M-Sport but points from Evans and Tänak saw the British team extend its advantage over Hyundai, the Korean manufacturer struggling with all its cars in Finland.

The FIA WRC 2 Championship saw another home win. Jari Huttunen took a big advantage into the day and won by over two minutes in his Škoda Fabia R5. Quentin Gilbert and Tom Cave rounded off the category podium. The Junior WRC Championship was once again intense with no fewer than three of the crews rolling in the penultimate stage. In the end, Nicolas Ciamin took a convincing win over series leader Nils Solans.

The 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship sees a change of surface as the crews head to Rallye Germany, Aug. 17-20. After a string of loose surface events, it's onto tarmac and another tricky event on the calendar that requires precision driving and an ability to adapt to ever-changing weather conditions.