Sat 17 Feb 2024

Saturday midday: Katsuta out, Lappi in the clear

Esapekka Lappi’s pursuit of a second FIA World Rally Championship victory remains on track after the Finn completed Saturday morning’s loop of three stages leading Rally Sweden by almost 90 seconds.

Out in front on his first start of 2024 following Friday’s dramatic opening leg, the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid driver had been in a close fight with Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta. But when Katsuta crashed out on today’s second stage, Lappi was left in the clear.


“Sure, it is harder [mentally now],” the Finn admitted when asked about his approach given his 1min 24.3sec advantage. “I was over-safe, but I don't know what else I should do, to be honest. The time is what it is. We are not touching the banks. The last kilometres [of SS11] were really messy with no grip at all.”


Following his Friday heroics, Katsuta began leg two 3.2sec behind Lappi. He narrowed that gap to 0.9sec with a determined charge through Saturday’s first test, the 15.65km run of Vännäs. But his hopes of a maiden WRC victory were dashed when the Japanese plunged his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid into a snowbank 3.4km from the start of SS10 while pressing Lappi for the lead. Despite their efforts to dig their car out of the snow, Katsuta and co-driver Aaron Johnston were forced to retire for the day.

After demoting WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg in the battle for third on SS9, Adrien Fourmaux moved into second when Katsuta stopped on the next stage. The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team driver then underlined his potential by landing his fourth WRC career stage win on SS11 to cement second place in the overall order.


“For sure, I had a really good stage,” Fourmaux said after winning SS11 in his Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid. “We changed a little bit the set-up before that one and found something really good. There was more cleaning on that stage, which helped us also, but to be fair, I’m quite happy with my pace on that one. It could be my first podium [this weekend], so we need to stay on the road now.”


Having been hampered by opening the road for much of Friday afternoon’s loop, Elfyn Evans missed out on winning SS9 by 0.3sec before his third-fastest time on SS10 elevated him onto the final step of the provisional podium, 11.4sec behind Fourmaux. But after the Toyota driver “scooped a snowbank on the inside of a corner” and “lost loads of power” as a result, he headed back to midday service 16.2sec behind the flying Frenchman.

Solberg continues to lead WRC2 in a fine fourth overall aboard his Rally2-specification Škoda Fabia. The Swede is one place ahead of Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, who completed Friday’s running in 11th overall after fuel pressure problems cost him 40 seconds in time penalties.


“We’re trying to change the set-up for every stage,” the WRC points leader said. “Obviously it’s not a secret – I only had one run in shakedown without trouble and we didn't have time to confirm some settings. Yesterday was impossible to do any more and today we are struggling. In addition to that, we lost the intercom in the last section [of SS11]. Nothing we can do.”

Sami Pajari is up to second in WRC2 in sixth overall after Georg Linnamäe spun his Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 nearing the finish of SS11. The Estonian is now fourth in class, having also dropped behind WRC3 champion Roope Korhonen. Mikko Heikkilä and Lauri Joona complete the top 10.


Hyundai’s Ott Tänak and Toyota’s world champion Kalle Rovanperä restarted this morning following their day one exists. Tänak won SS9 from first on the road, 1.2sec faster than Rovanperä. The Finn set the pace on SS10, going 2.8sec quicker than Tänak, who complained of a lack of visibility in a forest section. Rovanperä suffered a stall on SS11, while Tänak reported a lack of grip in the loose snow. They were fourth and sixth fastest as a consequence.


Following service in Umeå, the second run of the Vännäs stage, SS12, is due to get under way at 14:15 local time.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM