It’s the call of the wild. Anybody who’s read Jack London’s classic adventure story of the same title will get where Esapekka Lappi’s coming from. Arctic Rally Finland represents an escape from the norm. Something different. Something cool. Another reason the Finn’s making the journey north? The hope that somebody turns the lights on.
The main reason, of course, is that he has a brand new Volkswagen Polo R5 to drive on the second round of the World Rally Championship. And the main reason he’s doing that is to make sure he is the name on everybody’s lips when it comes to selecting who gets a Rally1 seat next season.
“I will get nothing if I stay at home for the whole year,” Lappi told DirtFish. “That’s the idea behind this rally. And maybe some more.”
“Maybe. For the moment it’s only this one race, but I would like to do more and there is some talk about doing some more, but where the world is right now it’s difficult to plan. I want to make it happen, but I don’t want to make a promise that I can’t keep.”
The Finn beat Elfyn Evans and his 2020 M-Sport team-mate Teemu Suninen to the WRC2 title in 2016. He earned graduation to the top tier with Toyota Gazoo Racing in 2017 and won on only his fourth rally – and on home soil. Lappi switched to Citroën in 2019 and then joined M-Sport last year, before splitting with the team over the winter.
There’s a growing trend with frontline drivers now plying their trade in the second tier. Mads Østberg, Andreas Mikkelsen and now Lappi. But a WRC2 or Rally2 win is no walk in the park.
“It’s not,” said Lappi. “If you go as a former WRC driver confident you’re going to win, it’s probably not going to go like that. You have to push a lot in this category now. The speed, the pace, it will be really high at this rally with the guys you mention and people like Jari [Huttunen] as well. The quality of the competition here is different from before. I won’t do the whole [WRC2] championship.
“For now, I’m very happy to be doing this rally.”
Lappi won the Arctic Rally on his last outing in Rovaniemi in 2012 in a Ford Fiesta S2000. Sweet as that win was, it was the stages and the setting that really got him fired up.
“I have competed there three times,” he said. “The last time was nine years ago, so no way do I remember the roads. It’s such a unique event. But I do remember the place. I remember saying to myself: “I would love to come back here to drive as a professional – just once more.”
“It’s such a cool place and such a cool rally and now I have that chance.”
Apart from the obvious, what makes it so cool?
“It’s so far away from everything,” Lappi said. “It’s somewhere completely in the wild. You are right out there in the middle of nature, the phone doesn’t work, there’s nobody about. There are no houses, it’s just you and the trees. If you stop out there, you can be alone – except for the wolves – for a long time.
“The landscape is like nowhere else and then you’re driving between these huge snowbanks. It’s somehow some extreme excitement, especially at the night stages. The other thing about the night is the chance to see the northern lights.
“Where I live, further south close to Jyväskylä, we don’t really see these lights. I saw them once before, but being so close to the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi means we have a good chance.”
And while you’re waiting for the Aurora to do its thing, we can recommend some classic early 20th century American literature to while away the moments.
Seven months and a couple of weeks. That’s how long we’ve got before the teams…