Esapekka Lappi will head into the final day of Rally Finland on track to take a sensational first World Rally Championship win, holding a 50 second lead over fellow WRC rookie Teemu Suninen.
Lappi inherited the lead in the afternoon loop after Toyota team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala retired during the second running of Ouninpohja, his Yaris WRC crawling to a stop with a suspected electrical problem.
Lappi felt mixed emotions over leading his home rally on his first attempt, given the circumstances in which he had regained the lead he held on Friday afternoon.
“It’s really mixed [feelings] to be honest,” he said at the end of the penultimate stage. “I have to say I’ve never been so disappointed when I’ve been leading a rally. I feel really sorry for Jari-Matti and our team, but it’s part of the game.”
“We need to survive to the finish. It’s not easy to keep the rhythm without the pressure so we just need to find a decent speed and try to avoid all the mistakes. It was not easy with this car, when you are pushing so much the aero is not working so well.”
Teemu Suninen stormed back into second place in the afternoon, regaining the position he had lost to Juho Hänninen earlier in the day. They were both put under pressure by Elfyn Evans late in the day, especially in the final stage where Suninen lost nearly two seconds with a minor off following a jump, along with Hänninen carrying a suspected gearbox issue costing him over five seconds.
Craig Breen was some way off Evans in fifth, having lost momentum in the morning loop when overshooting a junction. This has reduced the gap to Thierry Neuville behind to 14.7 seconds – despite the Hyundai driver suffering a broken steering arm during the final stage – and the Belgian made clear that Breen was in his sights for a final push on Sunday.
“We are sixth now and we are aiming for top five,” he said. “In the ruts the car is working better, it’s much more fun.
“We hit something in the last narrow section. There was a stone that bent the steeringm so I had to back off at the end.”
Neuville’s improvement in the second loop of stages halted Ott Tänak‘s progress to catch the championship challenger, a key battle in the Constructors’ Championship between Hyundai and M-Sport.
Tänak had been inching closer to Kris Meeke for the entire leg, but the outcome in their battle became academic when Meeke picked up a front-right puncture, costing him almost a minute through the final Päijälä stage.
Dani Sordo continued to struggle his way through the rally, unable to match the speeds of the other regular manufacturer entries. He moved up to ninth thanks to troubles for others further up the leaderboard, but Mads Østberg was able to begin a fightback for ninth, cutting the gap to the Spaniard under the half-minute mark.
The Norwegian privateer had an eventful day to end tenth overall. He ran into a ditch in the morning running of Ouninpohja, breaking his rear suspension and brakes, costing him over three minutes. He then had another off in the leg-closing Päijälä test, but this time was far luckier, escaping with only minor cosmetic damage and minimal time loss.
|1.||Esapekka Lappi||Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||2:13:02.7|
|2.||Teemu Suninen||M-Sport World Rally Team||+49.1|
|3.||Juho Hänninen||Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT||+53.4|
|4.||Elfyn Evans||M-Sport World Rally Team||+54.7|
|5.||Craig Breen||Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||+1:16.9|
|6.||Thierry Neuville||Hyundai Motorsport||+1:31.6|
|7.||Ott Tänak||M-Sport World Rally Team||+2:07.5|
|8.||Kris Meeke||Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||+2:59.1|
|9.||Dani Sordo||Hyundai Motorsport||+3:54.0|
|10.||Mads Østberg||M-Sport World Rally Team||+4:23.6|