Belfast Telegraph

Finn Lappi could defend his Circuit of Ireland crown

By Sammy Hamill

European rally champion Esapekka Lappi may, after all, be back to defend the Circuit of Ireland title he won so impressively in 2014.

The personable young Finn was a popular and deserved winner last Easter, dominating the rally from start to finish, and he went on to clinch the ERC crown for Skoda. But since then the Czech team have been concentrating on final developments of their new 1600cc turbocharged Fabia, which will replace their highly successful but aging S2000 version.

They have not taken part in either of the first two rounds of this year's European series and were not expected to appear on the Circuit either.

But now there are reports that Skoda are targeting April 1 as the official FIA approval date for the new R5-class Fabia, which, if successful as expected, would make it eligible to start the Circuit on April 2.

Lappi's name has now also been included in the official list of ERC registered drivers for 2015.

As is normal with Skoda they won't comment on speculation and Circuit organisers say, while aware of the rumours, they have had no contact so far. But Britain's top rally publication, Motorsport News, has reported that sources close to the team have indicated the Circuit is their preferred target for the new car's debut.

That comes as no surprise. It is a rally they have dominated in recent times, finishing one, two, three in 2012 with Juho Hanninen, Andreas Mikkelsen and Jan Kopecky followed by Lappi winning last year ahead of team-mate Sepp Wiegand.

Skoda say they plan to run the car in the WRC2 division of the World championship but with Lappi registered for the ERC they clearly intend to contest rounds of the European series, too.

Meanwhile, the Circuit organising team are holding an information and recruitment evening at Lisburn golf club tomorrow night (8.30pm). Anyone interested in playing a part in the rally can attend.

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