Sun 18 Feb 2024

Lappi’s long wait is over with Sweden victory

Esapekka Lappi is a winner again in the FIA World Rally Championship on the back of a controlled but fine fast-paced display of ice and snow driving aboard his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid.

His Rally Sweden victory, alongside co-driver and fellow Finn Janne Ferm, came six years, six months and 19 days since he won in the WRC for the first time on Rally Finland in 2017.

 

The 33-year-old breaks the record for the longest gap between WRC wins, which stood at five years and 359 days and was jointly held by Shekhar Mehta and Jean-Luc Therier.

 

Lappi is the fifth Hyundai-powered driver to win a WRC round, a result that gives the manufacturer its 29th triumph in the world championship on an event when Toyota and M-Sport Ford also finished on the podium.

“It feels really good,” Lappi said. “I’ve been hunting for this second victory for quite a while. I would like to say a million things but probably I’ll forget many of them. But many thanks to Cyril [Abiteboul, Hyundai Motorsport president and team principal], he kept me in the team after a very bad second half last year. It’s quite a massive contrast from that moment until now. So thanks to the team. And my family as well.”

 

Lappi started Rally Sweden’s deciding leg of three stages this morning (Sunday) leading by 1min 06.3sec and with 18 WRC points banked for topping the order at the end of Saturday’s running. While his rivals deployed full-attack mode, Lappi kept a cool, calm head to reach the finish unscathed and with his lead intact.

 

Although it meant his winning margin was trimmed to 29.6sec, victory was all that mattered for Lappi, who is embarking on a partial campaign for the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team in 2024.

Behind Lappi, Toyota’s Elfyn Evans snatched second from Adrien Fourmaux when the Frenchman lost time striking a snowbank on Sunday’s first test. But the M-Sport Ford Puma driver didn’t let that moment knock him off his stride as he raced to his maiden WRC podium in third.

 

“It’s really, really good for us to be on the podium, after coming back to Rally1,” said Fourmaux. “It’s been two really hard years but we never gave up and to be on the podium in Sweden is really special. Honestly, I have no words, it's just so nice.”

 

Despite sliding his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid into a snowbank at high speed on SS17, Evans topped the Super Sunday classification to bag seven world championship points to add to the 13 he scored on Saturday under new rules for 2024. The Welshman, who also took four points on the Wolf Power Stage for an event total of 24, is now three points adrift of Thierry Neuville in the race to win the 2024 WRC title.

But he could have been two points behind Neuville had he not slid into another snowbank nearing the finish of the Wolf Power Stage, a moment that denied him the fastest time – and five bonus points – by 0.039sec.

 

“We lost it all in the last couple of corners – not so good,” Evans said. “Anyway, overall I guess we can be relatively happy with this result after what happened on Friday, but there are still areas to work on.”

 

Neuville, the winner of Rallye Monte-Carlo last month, fought back from fuel pressure issues and a few set-up gripes to finish fourth, but with the rear of his Hyundai sporting significant cosmetic damage following a heavy Wolf Power Stage landing. While the Belgian’s title lead has been cut from six to three points, his efforts helped Hyundai draw level with Toyota at the top of the FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers after two rounds.

Oliver Solberg won WRC2 in Sweden for the second year running in fifth followed by category rivals Sami Pajari, Georg Linnamäe, Roope Korhonen and Mikko Heikkilä. Italy’s Lorenzo Bertelli, making his second WRC start in as many years in a Toyota GR Yaris Rally 1, rounded out the top 10.

 

World champion Kalle Rovanperä claimed five points by setting the pace through the rally-deciding Wolf Power Stage following his Saturday morning restart. Ott Tänak, who also crashed out on Friday, scored six points via the Super Sunday classification and his Wolf Power Stage result.

 

Early rally leader Takamoto Katsuta’s bid to salvage championship points following his off on Saturday’s first stage suffered a setback when he spun at high-speed nearing the finish of SS17. The Japanese Toyota driver came away with three points.

Rally1 rookie Grégoire Munster achieved his goal of reaching the finish in the second M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Puma following myriad mishaps during what was a learning-first mission by the Luxembourg youngster.

 

The World Rally Championship heads to Africa next for Safari Rally Kenya, round three of the season, from 27 - 31 March.

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