Novice Esapekka Lappi, driving for only the fourth time at the World Rally Championship’s top level, won the recent Neste Rally Finland by 36.0 seconds, giving the Toyota Yaris its first win the current WRC season.
The Finn has a reputation for remaining ice cool under the most severe pressure, but the 26-year old felt the tension at the start of the final Power Stage with a shock win within touching distance.
“I was so nervous before the last one,” he said. “I’ve never felt anything like that before. I don’t even know why but it felt really bad before the stage. Immediately when I started off the line then it was under control.”
Lappi kept his emotions in check to seal a 36.0-second victory on only his fourth appearance at the WRC’s top table. Thousands of fans welcomed their new hero as the Finn climbed onto the podium at the Jyväskylä finish.
“I’ve always been dreaming about winning this rally, and now we did it on the first time with this car. One achievement off the bucket list. I was expecting to be on the podium, like third place, that would be fully maximum for me,” he said.
“I never could have imagined to win this rally in the first time with a World Rally Car. It’s something unique,” Lappi added.
His dream almost turned into a nightmare in the penultimate speed test when, while holding a comfortable lead, he broke a wheel rim on his Toyota Yaris that demanded urgent attention.
“I just took a bit of an early entry on one corner. It was tightening after that and I dropped the rear tire off the road and it hit the rock immediately, which broke the rim,” Lappi said.
“I wanted to kill myself at that moment, because I didn’t really know what actually was broken, I just felt that something was broken on the car. After the stage when I saw what had happened, then there were no problems. We changed the tire and everything worked fine. No panic,” he added.