ESAPEKKA LAPPI, ONE OF RALLYING’S BRIGHTEST YOUNG STARS, WILL MAKE HIS FIRST APPEARANCE AT THE TOP LEVEL OF THE WRC AT VODAFONE RALLY DE PORTUGAL IN MAY.The Toyota Gazoo team test driver [above right] will join team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Juho Hänninen in the squad for the May 19-21 event, driving a third Yaris WRC at the start of a what the team calls a ‘limited programme of WRC rounds’.
Lappi, 26, won the WRC 2 title in 2016 and joined Toyota prior to the 2017 season. Seemingly destined for one of the squad’s two Yaris WRC seats, Latvala’s late arrival edged him into a testing role and he and co-driver Janne Ferm [above left] have spent the last few months helping to develop the rally-winning machine.
“This is the moment I have been working for all of my life: it is an amazing opportunity to drive a World Rally Car and I am so happy,” said Lappi.
“I have not had a lot of testing with Yaris WRC so I will need to build my experience as it is a very big step up from R5. For Janne too, there will be plenty to get used to, as the pace notes are coming so much faster! But step by step we will all learn together. My goal is to try and get to the finish of the rallies without issues. If you can do that, then you always have a good chance of scoring some points.”
Team boss Tommi Mäkinen said that through real competition, the Finn would be able to gain further experience and keep match-fit.“Esapekka is a very young and very hungry driver, this is for sure, but of course he has not had so much time to test the car before his first rally. I know that he will do his best, and the objective for him personally is the same as the objective for the whole team: he needs to finish the rallies and collect as much information as possible.
“There is still a lot of progress that we can make with our car and he is going to be an important part of that development process. Of course, you learn a lot from testing on your own but you learn even more from real competition against everyone else when that is part of a testing programme, which is why we have made this decision to run Esapekka and Janne on some rallies this year. It is good to give some young boys a chance as well,” he added.