Esapekka Lappi has described the feeling of taking the lead in Rally Finland on his home WRC debut as like having “butterflies from the stomach”, with a 50 second lead in hand ahead of tomorrow’s final day of action.
Lappi had led the event on Friday afternoon, and resumed in first position this afternoon after previous leader Jari-Matti Latvala retired with mechanical issues during the Ouninpohja test.
With a large lead to fellow debutant Teemu Suninen in second place, Lappi only needs to bring the car home to take his first WRC win, an extraordinary feat given Finland is only his fourth rally at the highest level. With only four stages remaining in tomorrow’s final leg, Lappi was asked if he would be able to enjoy his run to the finish, or he would be paranoid of every unusual noise he heard from the car.
“Yes, you start to listen everything!” he replied. “[I have] butterflies from the stomach when I saw Jari-Matti on the stage. I need to really concentrate to keep my head cool.”
While immediately after taking over the lead from Latvala he had described his feelings as having “never been so disappointed” when leading a rally, he was in a more buoyant mood by the end of Saturday’s final stage.
“I was a bit disappointed for Jari-Matti, [it’s a] shame for him, but it’s not my fault that the car broke down,” he said. “I need to enjoy this moment now, it’s something really amazing. Ok, we were leading yesterday, but it was only 4 seconds and now it’s 50 seconds.
“I’ve been used to this from last year, when we were leading the [WRC2] rally. Normally we had a big gap, so now we just need to do the same thing as from past years.”
Lappi indicated that backing off to conserve his car was simply not an option, given the nature of the current specification rally cars introduced for this season.
“We started to struggle with the centre diff,” he explained. “You really need to drive this car all the time so it works properly, so you can’t actually back off so much, because then you start to have moments immediately. I need to be at a good speed all the time.”
Lappi’s best result in his previous three WRC events was fourth place in Sardinia, meaning a maiden win would also be the Toyota driver’s maiden podium finish.