Lappi rates Mexico drive among the best of his WRC career
The one-time WRC winner, who was competing in his third event for Hyundai after switching from Toyota, set the fastest time on five of the day’s eight stages, topping six-time Rally Mexico winner Sebastien Ogier by 5.3 seconds.
Lappi was engaged in an intense battle with Ogier, the driver he shared with in 2022 Toyota’s third GR Yaris, as the pair broke away from the chasing pack on Mexico’s demanding gravel stages.
Lappi went into Friday’s midday service with a lead of 1.4 seconds, which then grew to 6.9 seconds before Ogier responded on the final Superspecial stage, held at the Leon service park in the evening.
Reflecting on his drive, the Finn admitted he was surprised to be leading the rally.
“I had hoped to be able to fight at the front, but to be honest I hadn’t thought about leading and constantly fighting Seb,” said Lappi, who clinched his only victory so far at the 2017 Rally Finland with Toyota.
“On the other hand, I didn’t really think about how this day would go, but I was confident that our pace would be good.
“I’m a bit surprised but I’m taking it for what it is and it’s probably one of the best days of my career.”
After initially struggling to get to grips with the i20 N at the season opener in Monte Carlo, Lappi has quickly found the sweet spot for the setup, which he attributes to a significant amount of work that has been done since the January event.
“It’s a good car and we did a lot of work during the Monte Carlo Rally and we did a lot of work between Monte Carlo and Sweden and also during Rally Sweden,” he added.
Esapekka Lappi, Hyundai World Rally Team
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
“But I think we can stop looking for the good setup as I think we found what I want and what I like.
“I can now concentrate on driving and that helps.”
Lappi’s flawless drive was recognized by Ogier, with the Frenchman revealing he “couldn’t do much more” than take more risks to overtake the Hyundai driver.
“It was a good day and I think we can be satisfied,” said Ogier.
“I don’t think there was much we could do other than take a lot of risk but that’s not really the approach I want to have on this rally. I am happy.
“So far Esapekka has done a great job, so many good things for him. But there are three days in this rally.
“Obviously there’s still work to be done to improve. There are some sections where we definitely can’t keep up the pace, so we need to analyze if we can find a bit more.”
When asked if he would consider taking more risks, he added: “The fight goes on anyway. I think I’ll do the same, and you can’t say we’re cruising, we’re pushing, but try not to overdo it.”
Rovanpera happy with damage control
Meanwhile, World Champion Kalle Rovanpera declared himself “quite happy” to end the day in fifth place, 59.7 seconds back.
Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
Photo by: Toyota Racing
Rovanpera started the day second in the street order, although he effectively became a street sweeper for much of the morning when overnight leader M-Sport’s Ott Tanak suffered turbo failure.
“To be honest, I’m pretty happy with it,” said Rovanpera.
“In previous years, some stages lost more time on the first lap, so we weren’t that far off today.
“The starting place is better so obviously tomorrow we have to try to use it well and hopefully we can fight with the guys who are close to us.”