SS8-9-10: Lappi edges ahead
Finn relegates team-mate Latvala to second
Young charger Esapekka Lappi ousted experienced team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala from the lead of Neste Rally Finland on Friday afternoon.
Lappi, starting only his fourth rally at the WRC’s top level, claimed his sixth victory in nine speed tests today to edge ahead of his Toyota Gazoo Racing colleague and fellow Finn by three-tenths of a second.
Lappi had closed on Latvala since an overly-cautious opening this morning and finally moved his Toyota Yaris ahead after a big attack through the 21.68km Lankamaa special stage to lead a WRC round for the first time.
“The feeling is quite nice!” he said. “I gave everything I could. I knew this was a tricky stage and I was pushing so much and to be only 1.4sec quicker than Jari-Matti shows the quality of the competition.”
Finns dominated the top of the leaderboard, holding the first four places. Latvala completed Lankamaa, the last of a loop of three tests, with slight damage to the right rear of his Yaris after clipping a chicane, but he headed Teemu Suninen by 14.4sec.
Suninen won the Äänekoski-Valtra test in his Ford Fiesta and was 10.2sec clear of Juho Hänninen in another Yaris, but there were major concerns for the Toyota man. He hit a rock 6km after the start of Lankamaa, damaging the rear right suspension mounting.
Craig Breen and Mads Østberg both lost ground in the podium battle. Breen lost the brakes in his Citroën C3 midway through Lankamaa, while Østberg conceded almost 20sec after a joint in his Fiesta’s track control arm came loose.
Breen held onto fifth but the Norwegian fell behind both the Irishman and Elfyn Evans to seventh.
Kris Meeke was also in trouble, ending the stage with hay bale tape trailing from his C3. The Ulsterman didn’t wait to explain what happened, but dropped about 15sec.
A frustrated Thierry Neuville continued to labour in ninth. “I think I’m driving well but I can’t match the others. I should be faster than this,” said the Hyundai i20 pilot.
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