It’s close to three years since Esapekka Lappi stepped out of a Toyota Yaris WRC for the last time. Until today. Until Saturday.
This is the return. The reboot. But it’s all very familiar. On a damp road close to Jyväskylä only the gaudy green-white overalls look slightly out of place as EP and co-driver Janne Ferm slide back aboard a Yaris WRC.
From the outside, it’s like troublesome times at Citroën then M-Sport Ford never happened. It’s like they’ve never been away.
From the outside.
For Lappi, on the inside, it’s pretty clear he hasn’t been in a World Rally Car for 10 months.
Returning after his first full-blooded run in Toyota’s test car, as the 2017 Rally Finland winner returns to the test base he offers a wry smile and a small shake of the head.
“It was a small shock,” Lappi told DirtFish. “It’s so bloody fast!
“When you have been driving an R5 car and not in one of these things for a while, it takes some time – it’s so impressive!”
When you’ve already won with a Yaris WRC in Jyväskylä settling back into the car’s not going to be the most difficult job in the world. Yes, there was some fiddling with the set-up, but that was more to do with the fact it was five degrees, raining and muddy – not your normal pre-event test conditions for Finland.
“We will do some work with the car,” he added. “And we stay later to do some running with the lights in the dark this evening.
“But today is really for the head and getting the head used to the car and the speed.
“You need to be quite crazy, after such a long break it feels quite crazy to go flat over a crest and then slow the car for the corner after that.
“Everything is simple with the car, it’s just the brain that is saying: ‘No, you cannot do that!’
“That’s the problem or the challenge I will face during the race to understand the pace.
“In the test road, I can do well, but to move that pace to the first pass [of the first stages] is not that simple.”
Asked what he thought might be realistic, Lappi was quick to dismiss talk of a second win aboard the Yaris.
“It’s just not realistic in real life that I can come back after 10 months to fight for the win,” he said.
Everything is simple with the car, it’s just the brain that is saying: ‘No, you cannot do that!’Esapekka Lappi
“It’s just not possible. I got a clue for this in the test when we changed a section of the test road, and then in this fresh section, the first pass was not enough – I was still hesitating in a few places and you cannot do that if you want to win.”
Lappi enjoyed the company of his team principal Jari-Matti Latvala as a co-driver during his test. Latvala was impressed.
“The confidence was good,” Latvala told DirtFish. “He was driving well.
“I told him: ‘If you can take this pace from the test roads to the rally then you don’t have to worry – you will be doing really good!’
“But always, the point is: can you bring the confidence from the test road and transfer it straight to the first stage?”
Not waiting for an answer, Latvala adds: “You know, EP, he doesn’t need to win, he doesn’t need to fight for the victory.
“If he can make the top five then this can be perfect. He and I discussed a lot, and he admitted the first day can be difficult – when he hasn’t been driving for one year – to find the top speed.
“But then after that he can pick up the speed better.”
Discussing the Latvala debrief with Lappi later, he smiled.
“He said that?” said Lappi. “Then if that’s what Jari is saying, then I need to very carefully listen to what he’s saying!
“The purpose of this rally is to get up to speed then later in the weekend to show what we can do.
“It’s just so nice to be back with this car. It’s like three years ago, the basic car underneath is the same: it’s very easy to drive and a very good package for Finland.”
And with that, the gathering gloom warranted a light pod and another run through the woods.
Toyota-Lappi version 2.1 is looking like an interesting prospect for next week. And beyond.