Esapekka Lappi’s gamble pays off after Friday’s lead in Sardinia

Esapekka Lappi's gamble pays off after Friday's lead in Sardinia

Hyundai World Rally Championship driver Esapekka Lappi feels that his daring setup gamble is paying off after finishing Friday in the lead at Rally Sardinia.

The Finn admitted in the run-up to the rally that he was going to try a new setup that he had uncovered in testing.

Lappi began the day ahead of Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier by 0.2 seconds after winning the super special on Thursday night. He opted for a more hard tyre-focused strategy for the morning’s 49.9km Monte Lerno test, however, and finished 16.3s behind Ogier.

But in the afternoon, Lappi changed to soft tires, which were ideal in the heavier rain. Despite sustaining a left-rear puncture in the second run of Monte Lerno, this factored in with his suspension set-up call to assist the former WRC rally champion pass Ogier and take the lead at the day’s end by 0.1s.

“It looks like it… It is really working especially when it is really rough,” Lappi said. “I don’t know where I pulled that time on the short stage, it wasn’t like crazy driving.

“It was just clean all of the time. To be that much faster than Seb, I have to say the damper is really working… The Monte Lerno stage was quite a tricky stage.

“Most of the stage, the grip was fairly okay but then all of a sudden there was full mud… I would say there was 80% okay grip, but there was this other 20%. There was some moments, for sure.

“We had a small sacrifice with the tyres in the morning on the long stage, so now we have gained it back, but we have got to do it all again tomorrow.

“I hope tomorrow will be fully dry as I have more hard tyres and good road position, so I would like full dry weather please.”

Lappi’s driving abilities and his eagerness to push the team in setup were both recognized by Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul.

“It doesn’t matter what the lead is but it is good to be finishing in leading position, but we have been there before and we know it can stop very quickly,” Abiteboul said in an interview with

“Hats off to Esapekka because he has been driving extremely well and it is good to see it working as he has been pushing his engineers with the set-up of the car, and taking some risk on the tyre side, which has put us in fairly good position for tomorrow.

“We are yet to win a rally this season so let’s stay positive but also realistic. We have a big decision to make on tyre strategy tonight with limited information on the weather.

“I think it is going to be bit more wet than today. I think soft will be a popular choice.”

Hyundai’s top title challenger Thierry Neuville finished the day in third place, 18.6 seconds off the lead. Due to an intermittent handbrake issue that will be fixed for Saturday, the Belgian lost time in the afternoon.

Dani Sordo, the team’s third entry, improved to 12th overall after losing three minutes to a slow roll during stage four that seriously damaged the i20 N.

Sordo and co-driver Candido Carrera skipped lunch to help the Hyundai mechanics fix the car before the afternoon loop after they had succeeded in getting it to service.

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