Lappi’s late run sets Sweden shakedown pace

World champion Kalle Rovanperä had been fastest but didn't take a fourth run


Esapekka Lappi went fastest on shakedown for Rally Sweden, his first World Rally Championship event since stepping back to a part-time campaign for 2024.

All three of the best times were set on the fourth and final pass of the shakedown stage for Rally1 cars, benefiting from road sweeping that cleared loose snow away.

But when conditions were more equitable, it was reigning world champion Kalle Rovanperä who looked fastest. Showing no signs of rustiness after missing the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, Rovanperä had blitzed the field on the first pass to go 2.4 seconds faster than anyone else.

In the end the reigning world champion was usurped by three of the four drivers that conducted a fourth run of the stage, the first of those being Lappi.

“A bit of a pinball here and there with the banks,” said Lappi of his first shakedown run. “But I guess that’s the way to do it, at least on the narrow parts.”

Adrien Fourmaux was only sixth tenths of a second off Lappi’s benchmark in the lead M-Sport car, while Ott Tänak was eight-tenths off the top spot in third.

Perhaps worryingly for the competition, the extra off-season rest for fourth-placed Rovanperä appears to left him more refreshed and raring to get going again.

“It’s nice to be back, to be honest,” said Rovanperä. “It was not a long break but, for sure, you feel that you’re more excited to be back. Let’s hope the weather this weekend on our side that for once we’re starting in the back that we can enjoy and have a good result.”


Rovanperä showed no sign of rustiness

Monte Carlo Rally winner Thierry Neuville was fifth fastest, finding 14 seconds between his first and second passes.

Two factors were at play: Neuville was the very first car into the shakedown stage and had to sweep all the loose snow away. But there was also an unusual solution to a not entirely uncommon problem inside the cockpit of the championship leader’s Hyundai i20 N Rally1.

Co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe’s helmet suffered an intercom failure, so Neuville’s navigator held the microphone of his road section headset up to his mouth with his left hand, while managing the pace notes with his right hand.

“[It started] two minutes before the start,” said Neuville of the intercom trouble. “I could hear him sometimes but it wasn’t easy for him, it was a real challenge.”


Intercom problems made Wydaeghe’s job more difficult

But for Neuville, the challenge of being first on the road tomorrow looms larger. Asked if it was a difficult weekend ahead, he simply replied: “It will be.”

Toyota’s main threat for the drivers’ championship battle, Elfyn Evans, was four seconds slower than Rovanperä’s benchmark. He was second car into the stage, as he will be for all of Friday, and surmised from the shakedown that “if it’s anything like that [on Friday], it won’t be easy”.

The third Toyota of Takamoto Katsuta was a further 0.6s behind the second GR Yaris Rally1. “I was driving pretty s*** but the car was working well,” was Katsuta’s honest assessment.

Grégoire Munster in the second Ford Puma improved to eight-fastest on his final run after being mixed in with the WRC2 field during his initial passes and struggling to adapt on his first time on snow in a Rally1 car.

“In all the fast sections I was way too slow and in the technical I was sometimes a bit too fast and went into the snowbanks, so not too efficient,” said Munster.

Shakedown among the WRC2 runners was won by Oliver Solberg, 0.6s faster than Georg Linnamaë’s Toyota GR Yaris Rally2.


Fastest in WRC2, Solberg is looking to repeat his 2023 success

Solberg was the first Rally2 car through the shakedown and those running behind were surprised to find so many holes in the snowbanks and loose snow in the middle of the road.

Next to the finish line after Solberg’s first pass was Sami Pajari: “[It’s] really messy. I don’t know if it was Oliver or who, but all the snowbanks were in the middle of the road!”

It was more of the same for 2022 WRC2 champion Emil Lindholm: “There was a lot of holes in the snowbanks, I don’t know who did that. And then snow all over the road from the holes.”

Mikko Heikkilä, who won the Finnish national classification of the Arctic Lapland Rally that Toyota had used as a pre-event warm-up for Sweden, was third-quickest among the WRC2 runners, 3.2s off Solberg’s benchmark.