Save the odd dent and mud stain, there were few telltale signs of what the Fabia S2000 had been through. Leaning on the bonnet, Esapekka Lappi looked on blankly; the gaze fixed on some faraway object. It seemed there was plenty on the mind.
His supremacy had never been in doubt during Rally Whangarei, and proof lay in the whopping victory margin of 4:03.2 over MRF-Skoda teammate Gaurav Gill, who was further hampered by a broken rear suspension on Sunday.
The Finn’s concern lay elsewhere.
A man of few words, Lappi refused to take the bait, initially. Instead, the focus was on how the opening leg of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) had been a challenge but he had seen it off, courtesy the “good chemistry with co-driver, Janne Ferm”, and by “steering clear of mistakes”.
The confidence is up but he stays unsure of winning in alien conditions like New Caledonia, up next in June. Whangarei was unknown too but its numerous cambers helped him embrace the gravel-strewn routes.
The skill was in place but a vital cog in Lappi’s campaign was the advice from Jarkko Kalliolepo.
On his maiden outing outside Europe, it was natural to seek out the experienced hand, who was co-driver to Jussi Valimaki when they were crowned the 2005 APRC champions.
The advice was loud and clear, “carry your food”. “Nutrition is important; as if you don’t have the food you’re used to, there cannot be 100 per cent concentration,” said Lappi.
This and every other rule had been adhered to, to “pull off a clean rally”, and on the anvil was a well-deserved break at home, so what was it that bothered the man, whose only other pursuit is to hit the gymnasium.
Some time had lapsed, and the guard had been lowered. Lappi spoke up; it was the prospect of going face-to-face with his girlfriend. His APRC commitments will see him spend a lot of time in Asia this season, and that, Lappi fears, could be a source of acrimony on the home front. “You know how women are,” he said, managing a feeble smile.
Final Results (Top 5)
Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (MRF-Skoda) 2:51:18.3;
Gaurav Gill/Glenn Macneall (MRF-Skoda) 2:55:21.5;
Ben Hunt/Tony Rawstorn (Brian Green Motorsport Ltd) 2:59:52.3;
Matt van Tuinen/Erin Kelly 3:03:31.5;
Josh Marston/Malcolm Peden (Brian Green Motorsport Ltd) 3:07:34.0.
The writer's trip has been sponsored by MRF