Esapekka Lappi rolled out of fourth place at Neste Rally Finland in Sunday morning’s opening speed test.
Stage info: SS20/21
SS20: Laukaa 1, 11.74km
Laukaa has not been driven this way for a long time but is a classic in either direction. A twisty opening kilometre leads to a long straight where speeds top 200kph. That’s followed by high-speed crests where aerodynamics keep cars glued to the road. A series of square bends later on are masked by tall grass on the inside before a fast final kilometre.
SS21: Ruuhimäki 1, 11.74km
A familiar stage but with changes. A new opening 4km leads onto more traditional roads and a well-known high-speed left-hander at 9km which tightens. Then it’s flat out over the famous jumps before a new stadium section to the finish, which contains another monster leap.
The Finn, who won his home round of the FIA World Rally Championship 12 months ago, was less than a kilometre from the finish of Laukaa when he slid wide in a fast left bend and crashed. His Toyota Yaris came to rest midway across the road.
“I went wide in a really fast place and the rear caught a tree stump. We hit some rocks with the front and then spun 360 degrees on the road and the car is too damaged to continue,” said Lappi.
“I was expecting it to turn a bit less but I think the pace note was correct. I just tried to be ‘on it’. I was not expecting to finish like this.”
Team-mate Ott Tänak adopted a cautious policy in Laukaa and the following Ruuhimäki test. Third in the former and fifth in the latter left the Estonian with a 33.3sec advantage at the top of the leaderboard and firmly on course for his second WRC victory of the season.
The battle for second between Mads Østberg and Jari-Matti Latvala was more frantic. Østberg struck first to win Laukaa by 0.9sec from Latvala but the Finn responded to claim Ruuhimäki by 1.2sec. The gap between them was 5.1sec in the Norwegian’s favour.
“It’s going to end in my favour!” said a bullish Østberg. “I had some bad pace notes in this stage but I changed them now. I focused on this stage yesterday evening and made some corrections which were wrong, which annoyed me.”
Latvala was equally pumped up for the battle over the remaining two stages. “It’s a big, big fight. When I saw Esapekka I maybe backed off too much and lost time. Mads is still up for the fight so I knew I had to give more,” he said.
Lappi’s demise promoted Hayden Paddon to fourth with Teemu Suninen heading an M-Sport Ford trio in fifth, ahead of Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans. The signs are that the team could switch Suninen and Ogier in the standings to assist the Frenchman’s title bid.