As the No 1 Skoda Fabia S2000 car drove into the Team MRF garage cheers were heard all around. But then again, it wasn’t really unexpected. The young Finn had proved himself far superior to his competition in the FIA-Asia Pacific Rally Championship at Queensland over the weekend.
Driving in the forests in the hills of Imbil, Sunday was just another day in the office for Esapekka Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm. With almost an 18-minute victory margin, the Finn amazed spectators and officials alike.
“Does it feel good to win?” asked a fan. The 22-year-old looked up and the cool face broke into a rare smile. “Absolutely,” Lappi replied.
Motorsports is in his blood. His father used to rally while his older brother had tried his hand at it. He began his journey at the age of 10 with go-karts, counting days till he turned 18.
With a licence finally in his pocket, he tried his hand at rallying. Four years into the profession, he was crowned the Finnish Rally Champion winning all seven rounds. And this season the talented youngster was given his maiden chance to rally overseas.
“It’s really been great so far. No complaints,” Lappi said. Winning in New Zealand on his APRC debut, a mistake cost him a podium finish in the second leg at New Caledonia. He was determined not to repeat it.
“The last two stages here were so slippery. Never have I faced such conditions. We had to drive carefully,” he explained on Sunday. But then, he made it look just so easy! “Yeah well, it wasn’t really,” was the modest reply.
But with this APRC out of the way, Lappi’s concentration will now shift to the World Rally Championship to be held at Finland next month. “I’m really looking forward to it,” he says excitedly. It will be the Finn’s first WRC.
It was a disappointing day for India’s Gaurav Gill. A suspension problem forced the Team MRF driver to retire during the 16th stage. He was two minutes behind Lappi after 12 stages on Saturday and was hoping to repeat his 2010 winning performance here.
However, there was some good news for India as Sanjay Takale with co-driver Sean Gregory finished third in their Subaru Impreza WRX.
The writer’s trip has been sponsored by MRF