SS17: Lappi lays down gauntlet

Esapekka Lappi drew first blood in the intense battle for the podium places at Rally Sweden on Saturday morning.

Stage info: SS17

Likenäs 1, 21.19km
Likenäs is a Rally Sweden classic dating back to the 1970s but was driven in this direction for the first time only two years ago. It starts just before Ambjörby’s motor stadium bowl, but then it is down to proper business on twisty, but fast roads. Crests, dips, bumps, narrow roads and changes in rhythm – Likenäs has everything and it’s a stage the drivers love.

Behind runaway leader Ott Tänak, four drivers began today’s final leg blanketed by less than 15sec.

Lappi blasted through the opening 21.19km Likenäs speed test to post third fastest time in his Citroën C3 and claim second place on his own. He began the day tied for position with Andreas Mikkelsen.

“Quite a clean stage. A few small mistakes but otherwise really clean driving and no risks,” said the Finn, who had a 2.5sec advantage over Thierry Neuville in the standings.

Neuville conceded 0.2sec to Lappi in the stage and climbed to third, but the Belgian admitted he was on the limit. “I can’t do more. I was quite fast and had a very good stage but I’m on the edge of what is possible with the car,” said the Belgian Hyundai i20 driver.

Mikkelsen was unable match either in his i20. The Norwegian was 10th in the stage and conceded almost seven seconds to Lappi.

“I tried not to use the snowbanks because I don’t get a lot of speed out of them. Maybe I could push more, I don’t know, but it’s hard to do a lot more. I would like a car that is a bit more reactive so I can go quicker in the combinations,” he said.

Mikkelsen dropped to fourth, 4.3sec behind Neuville, and his margin over Elfyn Evans was cut to 8.8sec as the Welshman went sixth fastest in his Ford Fiesta. The quartet was blanketed by 15.6sec on the leaderboard.

Tänak was fifth in his Yaris and his lead over Lappi stood at 53.4sec.

Conditions were perfect after freezing temperatures overnight and Jari-Matti Latvala took full advantage win the test by two-tenths in his Yaris from Sébastien Ogier’s C3.

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