The result which was forgone conclusion on Saturday came true on the final day of the Rally of Whangarei, the opening leg of the Asia-Pacific Rally championship, on Sunday.
Team MRF’s Esapekka Lappi, holding a 33 seconds advantage over team-mate Gaurav Gill when the second set of eight stages began under slightly wet conditions, capped off a memorable weekend by winning all but the opening stage of the day.
The Finn, with countryman Janne Ferm as co-driver, returned a total time of 2:51:18.3 seconds, a whopping 4:03.2s ahead of Gill (co-driver Glen Macneall).
The 1-2 finish, coupled with a sweep of all the stages, made the dedicated Skoda crew erupt into raptures of joy on a job extremely well done.
The young European, steering for the first time in the APRC, notched up 39 points while the veteran Indian picked up 30. Cusco Racing’s Michael Young (Daniel Willson) was the third among the APRC drivers while team-mate Hiroshi Asakura (Takumi Takahashi) did not finish after being forced off road in Stage 12.
Gill, who started with a win in the ninth stage, faced traction and rear differential problems after the next stage and by the time the first half was finished, his machine had become a “front-wheel drive car”.
Relying on his expertise and with a determination to complete the race and finish second, the Indian was not only happy with the end result but more satisfied at having a good run. Gill, handling the Fabia after seven months, appreciated Lappi’s show and said that the latter’s regular driving of the Skoda stood him in good stead. “There is no substitute for match practice” said Gill while assuring that he would push the points-leader in the races to come.
Lappi was effusive in his praise for Ferm and the team. “There was no problem with the machine, Ferm was fantastic and a good connection and chemistry did the trick”, said the new ‘Flying Finn’ while talking to this correspondent before the prize distribution ceremony.
“He was very fast and impressive. He pushed me. It will be a good competitive season ahead”, Lappi mused when asked about Gill.
The young MRF driver, who loves speed and contact games like ice hockey and rugby, plans to take a break at home before flying out to New Caledonia for the second leg of the APRC in June.
Going by the display in this quaint city, it would not be surprising if Lappi goes on to emulate Jussi Valimaki by claiming the big prize at the end of the season for Finland and Team MRF.
Final standings (APRC drivers): 1. Esapekka Lappi & Janne Ferm (Team MRF) 2:51:18.3s; 2. Gaurav Gill & Glenn Macneall (Team MRF) 2:55:21.5; 3.Michael Young & Daniel Willson (Cusco Racing) 3:25:53.8; 4. Sanjay Takale & Sean Gregory (Sanjay Takale) 3:30:51.3; Hiroshi Asakura & Takumi Takahashi (Cusco Racing) DNF.
(V.V. Ramanan is in Whangarei on the invitation of MRF)
Keywords: FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship