Neither Esapekka Lappi nor Takamoto Katsuta managed to win the Kuopio Rally, their warm-up event for next weekend’s World Rally Championship-counting Rally Sweden, as both made mistakes.
Due to the reduction in testing for Rally1 crews in the WRC this year, Hyundai sent its new signing Lappi to the second round of the Finnish championship, where he was joined by Toyota’s Katsuta.
Up against a field of Rally2 cars, the pair were naturally the pacesetters on the winter rally – Lappi winning the first six stages of the one-day event to streak into a handsome lead.
At the midday service halt, Lappi was 12.9 seconds clear of Katsuta, who had initially laid much further behind as he had to slow down on SS2 when a zero car went off the road, and was only later handed a notional time.
But on SS5, the first stage after service, Katsuta put his GR Yaris Rally1 off into a snowbank, losing him 21s against Lappi.
A leaking radiator brought about by that incident then meant Katsuta did not start SS6, and Lappi’s sixth stage win put him 1m45s clear of Jari Huttunen who had assumed second place.
But Lappi then made his own mistake as he ran off the road near the finish of SS7, the penultimate stage, and lost close to 11 minutes escaping the snowbank.
It dropped him outside of the top 30, and after winning the final stage he ended up finishing the rally 10m05s down on victor Huttunen as he also picked up a 1m20s penalty for being late to a time control.
Huttunen’s victory was earned following an epic tussle with fellow Škoda Fabia driver Juha Salo.
Just 2.1s split the pair at the finish, with Huttunen in an older car and Salo in a newer version.
2019 and 2020 Finnish champion Teemu Asunmaa completed an all-Fabia podium in third, and had been the lead Fabia in third overall through the first three stages.
He was passed by both his rivals on SS4, with Salo ahead of Huttunen by 0.7s at the rally’s halfway point.
It was still under a second with two stages to go, before Huttunen pulled ahead by being the fastest Rally2 driver through the final two stages.