Lappi’s “stupid” moments seem like history already

From struggling in Sweden to taking on Ogier for México victory, Lappi has rapidly turned his Hyundai fortunes around


The 2023 World Rally Championship started out tough for Esapekka Lappi.

Eighth place on Rally Monte Carlo, followed by seventh on Rally Sweden, was certainly not the start to life with Hyundai he would have wanted.

Aside from winning the powerstage in Sweden, he looked a shadow of his usual self on both rallies, and it was clear the confidence was just not there.

Throw into the mix a crash on the penultimate stage of the Kuopio Rally – which he contested in preparation for Sweden – and his results have made for tough reading.

But on the first full day of Rally México, Lappi was a huge contrast to the driver we’ve seen in recent weeks.


Sébastien Ogier looked to be a clear favorite to win this weekend; add a favorable road position on Friday to his ominous record in México and wealth of career achievements and you’d be expecting his Toyota to hold a comfortable lead going into Saturday.

But that is not the case.

Lappi has instead looked to be in control, winning five of the 10 stages so far, and going into the second full day leads Ogier by 5.3 seconds.

“For sure it took time. We needed to make some stupid things during the races like Monte Carlo completely, Sweden as well,” Lappi explained to DirtFish of his turnaround.

“We tried to find more pace. But now, as we have tried everything I know what I want from the car so now we can forget that.

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“And now I just concentrate on driving and now that’s why the times are also better.”

It’s clear now that on the first gravel rally of 2023, Lappi has found his mojo once more.

But when asked if he was close to feeling 100% comfortable in the i20 N Rally1, he remained cautiously optimistic.

“I think you cannot say that it’s perfect. It’s never, but it’s comfortable.”

Now with a full day of properly competitive running behind him, Lappi looks in good shape to maintain this fight for the win. His satisfaction and relief at that was clear at the end of Friday, even as he tried to stay calm about what was still to come.


“One of the best days of my career for sure, it’s quite amazing but I need to stay calm, it’s just the first day behind [us],” he said at the end of Friday.

“A very important day in the end. [We’ve got] a good starting position for tomorrow. But yeah, for sure I need to be happy and satisfied, but still stay calm.”

On a day labeled the best of his career, Lappi earned his fair share of plaudits, with team-mate Thierry Neuville – who is running fourth – heaping praise on the Hyundai newcomer.

“He did a good job,” he said. “I think it’s not a surprise that he is fast, and he has always been very fast.

“But he got very quickly to understand the car as well. The car seems to work, especially on his road position, and he seems to be happy with the handling.”


Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul shared the same opinion and was keen to express his delight at Lappi’s performance, calling it a “remarkable” day.

“I don’t want to say surprise because that would be undermining what we think of Esapekka and his ability to drive cleanly and consistently,” he explained.

“He’s been doing exactly that today so it’s been remarkable work from him and his engineers and the team who have given him a good car, a fast car, but also a reliable car.

“But it’s just the start of a very long weekend.”

There are still a big two days ahead for the current rally leader, but the problems of his 2023 season so far already seem like a now-irrelevant memory. Lappi has found his feet at Hyundai in emphatic style.