The entirety of Hyundai Motorsport is feeling “very sorry” for Esapekka Lappi after he crashed out of the Rally México lead, according to team principal Cyril Abiteboul.
Coming into the second full day of the rally, Lappi held a 5.3-second lead over Sébastien Ogier, having fended off the Toyota driver over the entirety of Friday.
He looked firmly set to fight for the lead on the final two days, but that all went wrong on the first pass of Ibarrilla when he went into a 180° spin and hit a telegraph pole.
The impact destroyed the rear of his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 and the engine also caught fire after both Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm had exited the car.
Abiteboul said he spoke with Lappi shortly after and was gutted at the outcome.
“I spoke with him first and foremost just to make sure he is fine, he is fine and so is his co-driver Janne,” said Abiteboul.
“It’s tough, it’s tough for him, he was really feeling sorry.
“His first words were to say he’s sorry for the team, for their effort.
“We are very sorry for him because I think he’s genuinely nice and his comments yesterday about how it was the best day of his career, we were all sort of touched by that statement.
“It was a very strong statement and probably today was the worst day of his career. So it’s up and down, that’s what rallying is, it can be very, very harsh.
“But he’s fine, we are trying to recover the car and trying to see what we can do from there for him for the rest of the weekend.”
Lappi’s exit promoted team-mate Thierry Neuville into third, and he has since been edging towards Elfyn Evans in second.
Asked about what Hyundai can achieve on the final day of the rally, Abiteboul said he’d like Neuville have a go at catching the Toyota driver.
“Absolutely, I think what we are going through with Esapekka should not put on a shadow of what’s happening with Thierry,” he explained.
“Thierry is fighting for podiums and he’s fighting on the long game for the championship, having did a very strong drive, very clean.
“So we’ll see what we can do, we’d like him to have a go at Elfyn but he’s a bit far, so we’ll see what he can do.”