Lappi hits back at Tänak, Fourmaux breaks steering

It looked like Fourmaux was destined to retire after hitting a rock, but he eventually got his Puma Rally1 going again


Esapekka Lappi has responded to Ott Tänak’s searing Rally Finland pace, nicking three tenths of a second back from the Hyundai driver as Adrien Fourmaux nearly retired from the event after hitting a rock.

Tänak absolutely dominated the opening stage of Friday morning to vault into the lead, blitzing into a 5.3-second lead.

Friday’s second test was the famous Lankamaa stage but this year it was run in reverse compared to normal. That effectively made it a brand-new stage, and Lappi decided to make it his own.

Running close with Tänak throughout all the splits, Lappi edged his rival by a slender three tenths to set up an intriguing battle for the rest of the morning – trailing by five seconds overall.

“I think we did a pretty good job with the preparation for this stage, but so did the others,” said Lappi.

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“Always when you have a new stage it’s a bit of a chance but everyone knows it anyway.”

Elfyn Evans actually dropped two tenths to Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä despite his better road position, and his third place is coming under increasing pressure from Craig Breen who was again quicker on SS3.

“It’s very difficult coming here with brand new notes, it’s such a fast stage as well,” Evans described.

“The sand holds you, it’s quite a different surface to the previous one so you can carry more speed than you think.”

Breen was third fastest on SS3 to nibble another 0.4s from Evans, trailing now by that same 0.4s margin overall as the crews head to service.


But at one stage, his M-Sport team-mate Fourmaux didn’t look like he’d be making it there under his own steam, clipping a rock hidden on the inside of the corner that damaged the steering.

Fourmaux managed to nurse the car into a forest access road and out the way of the competitors entering the stage behind him, and after spending some considerable time stationary, he eventually managed to get the car moving to complete the stage albeit not at full pace.

It was a big shame as Fourmaux had set himself up nicely on SS2, sitting seventh and second of M-Sport’s quintet of Pumas.

By comparison, the headache of opening the road is small fry for Rovanperä. But despite dropping more time to the leaders, Rovanperä has moved ahead of his closest championship rival Thierry Neuville, who haemorrhaged bucketloads of time on Lankamaa, into fifth place.

Neuville stopped the clocks 11.2s after Rovanperä – and startlingly 14.2s to his rally-leading team-mate Tänak – but seemed to be at peace with his lack of speed


“The grip is changing for me all the time and I just cannot do more, that’s it,” he said. “There’s a lot of corners that are flat but I do not have the confidence to go flat.”

Changes planned at the upcoming service then? Not necessarily.

“We can change what we want but we won’t find the right setting, it’s frustrating but it is what it is.”

Rovanperä, who was fourth fastest, added: “I enjoyed the stage, it’s a nice stage actually, but being the first car is not the most enjoyable always. You push hard and you can get a few surprises.”

It was a positive stage for Takamoto Katsuta who climbed from 10th to sixth overall in his Toyota – even if he wasn’t happy with his driving.

“I was hesitating in so many places where obviously I could go flat-out easily,” he said.

Pierre-Louis Loubet felt “something is a bit bent on the steering arm” after his skirmish with a rock on the previous stage, but once he realized all was fine he pressed on.

He’s taken over the seventh spot vacated by his French compatriot Fourmaux, lying 5.3s adrift of Katsuta but 1.6s up on Hyundai’s Neuville.

Jari Huttunen is another 1.1s behind to occupy ninth spot on his Rally1 debut.

Gus Greensmith has been promoted into the top 10 following the demise of his team-mate, but the M-Sport driver is far from happy; mystified by his lack of pace. He dropped 18.1s to stage winner Lappi.

“It’s me, I don’t know what’s up,” he said. “I’m trying my best to make it work, but nope.”

Words:Luke Barry