ESAPEKKA Lappi outgunned WRC 2 title rival Teemu Suninen to hold a strong category lead after Friday’s opening leg of Dayinsure Wales Rally GB.
The pair of Flying Finns went head-to-head in the foggy and muddy mid-Wales forests and six wins from eight speed tests ensured Lappi overnighted with a 46.7sec advantage in his factory-entered Skoda Fabia R5.
They are followed by two more Skoda factory drivers, with Pontus Tidemand in third place and Jan Kopecký fourth.
Wales Rally GB sets the scene for a showdown for the WRC2 title expected at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on 17-20 November. Lappi, Kopecký and Peruvian Nicolas Fuchs have all entered in Australia in a bid to achieve maximum possible points.
Neither Lappi nor Suninen had a trouble-free day. Lappi clipped a tree in the opening Myherin special stage and spun in the penultimate test, while Suninen overshot a junction in the morning and lost more seconds when he spun into a bank later.
Suninen capitalised on Lappi’s early error to lead in a privately-entered Fabia R5, but Lappi reeled off six consecutive stage wins to take a clear lead. His winning run was only ended in the final test when teammate Pontus Tidemand topped the times.
“It was a perfect day. After the first stage we found a good rhythm and I drove in the same style all day, but it wasn’t easy to find the correct rhythm in these stages,” Lappi said.
After initially holding third, Tidemand slipped behind Skoda’s other driver, Czech champion Jan Kopecký. He moved back ahead in the penultimate stage when Kopecký spun and finished 28.4sec ahead but 24.5sec behind Suninen.
Marius Aasen was fifth in a Ford Fiesta R5 with WRC 2 debutant Osian Pryce hot on his heels, just 1.8sec behind in a similar car.
Kevin Abbring retired his Hyundai i20 R5 in a first-stage ditch while Fredrik Ahlin exited with a broken turbo in his Fiesta R5.
Ole Christian Veiby conceded more than 4min 30sec in the opening stage with two punctures and Peru’s Nicolas Fuchs stopped to replace a flat tyre in the same test.