Circuit of Ireland star Lappi is a homeland hero with Finland win
Three years ago Esapekka Lappi won himself a whole army of Irish fans with his stylish and commanding win on the Circuit of Ireland. Now the young Finn is a hero in his homeland too.
In just his fourth appearance for the new Gazoo Toyota team, Lappi held his nerve to win Rally Finland, the event the drivers call the Holy Grail of the World championship, finishing 36 seconds ahead of Ford's Elfyn Evans who, almost exactly a year ago, was clinching the British title by winning he Ulster Rally.
Completing the podium places was Lappi's Toyota team-mate Juho Hanninen, another Finn with a Circuit of Ireland victory (2012) on his CV.
But this time the fast Finnish forests brought little satisfaction for Citroen's Irish duo of Kris Meeke and Craig Breen who finished first and third in 2016. Breen battled his way to fifth, but a miserable Meeke never figured in the fight, finally limping home in eighth. Still unhappy with Citroen's C3 and apparently at odds with the team, Meeke admitted he lacked confidence on a rally where total commitment is imperative. "When you are hesitating, your foot is hovering between the throttle and the brake, you are going nowhere on this rally," said the dejected Dungannon driver.
Lappi, on the other hand, was all commitment and courage, swapping the lead with Jari Matti Latvala until his team leader retired with an electronic fault on Saturday. And after another young Finn, Teemu Suninen, crashed yesterday Lappi was able to ease his way to the finish ahead of a resurgent Evans.
Meanwhile, it was a happy Desi Henry who scored a first Northern Ireland championship win on the Tyrone stages on Saturday and gave himself an ideal warm-up for the Ulster Rally.
The Portglenone driver said he "had a ball" as he steered his R5 Skoda Fabia to a 12-second victory ahead of the similar car of Marty McCormack, another driver whose focus is on the Ulster Rally.
And on a day when the three of the top four contenders for the NI title all retired, Peadar Hurson made up ground by finishing in third place in his WRC Ford Fiesta ahead of the WRC Mini of Philip Allen, the son of former champion Glenn Allen, on his first closed road rally.
Derek McGarrity and Alan Carmichael, both driving S14 Subarus, went out with mechanical problems as did Jonny Greer in the R5 Citroen.