Esapekka Lappi will drive a Hyundai i20 N Rally1 next season after sensationally agreeing terms with the team this week, according to DirtFish sources.
In a move which looks to have turned the driver market on its head, Lappi jumped ship from a shared Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 with the World Rally Champion squad to take a full-time seat at Hyundai.
Next year will be Lappi’s fifth season out of six driving for a new team, having moved from Toyota to Citroën to M-Sport before returning to Toyota after spending 2021 on the sidelines.
The 31-year-old Finn has car shared a Yaris with Sébastien Ogier through this season – and impressed with three podiums in seven starts. Despite contesting just over half of the events, he has won 14 stages and led for three.
Lappi had been expected to travel to Japan with Toyota for next week’s WRC finale in Aichi, where he would be carry out the recce while Ogier competed on the event.
DirtFish understands Lappi has remained in Finland this week and will take up a Hyundai seat vacated by Ott Tänak.
Last month, the Estonian announced he would be leaving Hyundai a year earlier, with next week’s Rally Japan his final outing in an i20.
DirtFish sources indicate the big loser in this deal is likely to be Andreas Mikkelsen who had been lined up to return to Hyundai.
DirtFish spoke to Mikkelsen early on Thursday and he admitted that he had been in discussions with Hyundai, but added that nothing was confirmed. The Alzenau-based squad had also reached out to Kris Meeke to talk about a possible WRC return for the Northern Irishman.
Hyundai deputy team principal Julien Moncet told DirtFish: “Currently there are a lot of speculations around many drivers for next year. Our line-up for 2023 has still to be fixed and will be communicated in due course.
“But right now our main focus is Rally Japan.”
DirtFish has contacted Lappi for comment.