Lappi edges Katsuta after a chaotic Friday taking Rally Sweden lead

Lappi edges Katsuta after a chaotic Friday taking Rally Sweden lead

Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi overtook Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta to take the lead at Rally Sweden following a wild Friday in which snow showers completely flipped the rankings.

On a dramatic first full day of action, the race for Rally Sweden triumph has narrowed down to a showdown between Esapekka Lappi and Takamoto Katsuta after favorites Kalle Rovanperä and Ott Tänak both retired during the morning stage.

In the four afternoon tests, which were beset by snow showers that made conditions extremely challenging for the crews, Lappi secured three stage wins and after eight of the eighteen stages, Lappi’s performance saw him edge out Katsuta and establish a 3.2-second rally lead.

“It is a nice feeling,” admitted Lappi. “We need to take the confidence from today and start to concentrate for the rest of the rally.

“For sure, I used the road position advantage, clearly in the afternoon but I was also not too slow against Kalle in the beginning so I’m fairly satisfied with that.”

Katsuta consequently ended the day as the leading Toyota after overnight leader Kalle Rovanpera fell out on stage four after going wide into a snowbank, while Hyundai’s Ott Tanak retired after also suffering the same fate.

Driving a Toksport Skoda Fabia, WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg took advantage of the cleaner roads to finish the day in an impressive third place (+1m20.7s).

Adrien Fourmaux of M-Sport concluded a fantastic day in fourth place, 5.6 seconds behind Solberg while Elfyn Evans crossed the finish line in fifth place (+1m50.0s). Championship leader Thierry Neuville suffered a fuel pressure issue and was forced to use the end of day service in eighth place behind Rally2 drivers Sami Pajari and Lauri Joona.

The afternoon loop started with extremely difficult conditions for the crews due to heavy snow and as a consequence of how significant the snowfall was, the slower Rally2 cars—who were positioned lower in the road order and faced a clearer surface—dominated the stages.

Rally2 drivers recorded the top five fastest times on stage five, which was the second pass over #42 Brattby. Georg Linnamae claimed the first stage win of the new Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 car after emerging from the snowstorm with a benchmark time.

With the sixth fastest time, Lappi was the fastest Rally1 contender, closing on rally leader Katsuta who could only manage the eleventh fastest time. Fourmaux came in at position 21 as Evans—who deemed the test “undriveable”—came in at position 24, while Neuville finished in 26th place.

Stage six [Norrby 2, 12.36km] was much more dramatic as Neuville had trouble powering his i20 N in time for the start of the stage. He received a 40-second penalty for checking into the stage four minutes late.

The Belgian did, however, have the benefit of trailing Evans on the road order, which left the Welshman struggling with the worst of the weather.

Getting through the stage wasn’t easy for Neuville. Due to the repairs that Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe made to the vehicle prior to the stage, the hood on his car was not correctly fitted. A bonnet pin failed as a result, causing a portion of the bonnet to lift up during the gig.

Neuville was able to clock a time 3.7 seconds better than Evans after surviving a miraculous encounter with a snowbank. At the end of the stage Evans hinted that Neuville’s problem at the beginning of the test might have been a tactical decision.

Lappi won the stage and increased his chances of winning by taking 5.0 seconds off rally leader Katsuta to close the gap to 0.3 seconds overall. Meanwhile, Fourmaux overtook Evans for third place overall as the Frenchman’s cautious strategy continued to pay off and Evans was forced to deal with the inconvenience of having to open the way.

Stage seven, which was the day’s penultimate stage held in the dark, saw an increase in snowfall, which made driving more challenging. Lappi dubbed the conditions “crazy,” but managed to survive the test and secure another stage win.

The Finn overtook the Japanese and took a 1.8-second lead in the rally thanks to a pace that was 2.1 seconds quicker than Katsuta’s.

With the road getting much cleaner, Solberg made an incredible jump from fifth to third place overall. Neuville again outran Evans, pushing him to sixth overall despite placing 11th in the rally standings and sixth quickest behind Heikkila and Pajari.

Stage eight [Umea Sprint, 5.16km] saw Lappi score a hat-trick of stage victories, 1.4 seconds ahead of Katsuta, while Neuville laid out a bit of pace at the conclusion of the day to secure the third fastest time.

Rally Sweden resumes on Saturday as the drivers take on seven more stages.

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