Why Lappi didn’t want to drive a Safari Saturday

The Rally Sweden winner was forced to deal with a myriad of issues on the Naivasha-based event


Esapekka Lappi was put through the wringer by Safari Rally Kenya.

Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. On Friday, his gearbox literally exploded, with bits of transmission pouring off the sump guard once it was pulled off. On Saturday, there were punctures, Zebras, and a double bird strike that shattered his windscreen and put glass in his eyes.

And then the final blow was delivered on Sunday morning: another mechanical fault. Despondent at the stop line of Hell’s Gate, Lappi resorted to route-one sarcasm.

“Transmission is finished,” he said. “It was so good decision to drive yesterday…”


Lappi's Safari started badly on Friday, and only got worse from there

His mood failed to improve after reaching service: ”Really hard to find anything positive. It goes from bad to worse, to worse, to worse. Really s***.”

Getting glass to the face on Saturday afternoon must have felt like the world aligning against him. As it transpired, he didn’t want to be out on the stages at all.

It’s an unusual position for a rally driver to take. Never give up, press on regardless; that’s usually the angle.

But with Hyundai’s technical director François-Xavier Demaison warning that all three drivers of i20 N Rally1 needing to be wary of further failures. Lappi wanted to avoid putting miles on his car’s spare transmission. There was little hope of big points on Saturday – but Sunday would have been a different matter, with 12 available in total.

“I wanted to save the gearbox, the transmission, for Sunday,” Lappi told DirtFish. “So I thought if we don’t drive so much on Saturday, that could save the car.”

Having had the Sunday afternoon loop to get the frustration out of his system, Lappi’s words were more measured at the end of the rally: “I understand the point that anything could have happened yesterday – and then if one car is out…

“[There was] a lot of frustration, so sometimes you say what you shouldn’t, maybe.”

That didn’t stop him from presenting a fairly frank assessment of the weekend. His team-mates had achieved some redemption by dominating Sunday, with Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak picking up 11 points apiece. Lappi meanwhile had to make do with only four.


The Hyundai driver had pace in Kenya, but was rarely able to use it

“Let’s say the speed was positive and that’s it,” said Lappi. “The rest, not so much. So, yeah, quite a big frustration, I believe, for all of us.”

There’s an irony to Lappi considering stepping out of the car voluntarily during a WRC round – he’s not going to be back into an i20 N Rally1 again for some time.

“I’m not coming soon,” he said, though refusing to elaborate further. Andreas Mikkelsen is in for Croatia and Dani Sordo is expected to contest both Rally Portugal and Rally Italy, making Poland at the end of June the earliest opportunity for him to rejoin the Hyundai line-up.