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febbraio 18, 2024 - RedBull Racing

Lappi on cusp of Rally Sweden victory

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Esapekka Lappi lapped up the praise and bagged the points with a clean run through Rally Sweden’s second leg today (Saturday) as he closes in on his first FIA World Rally Championship victory in six years.

By completing leg two in front, the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid driver has provisionally scored 18 WRC points, which will be added to his season tally providing he reaches the rally finish on Sunday afternoon under new rules for 2024.

Starting Saturday’s action leading the ice and snow event by 3.2sec following Friday’s drama-packed first leg, Lappi came under early pressure when Takamoto Katsuta slashed his advantage to 0.9sec with a determined charge through the day-opening 15.65km of Vännäs.

But Lappi was left in the clear when Katsuta plunged his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid into a snowbank 3.4km from the start of SS10 while pressing his Finnish rival for top spot.

Despite his comfortable margin, which stood at 1min 31.6sec after SS10, Lappi admitted that finding the balance between attacking and holding his lead was far from easy. Like his fellow drivers, Lappi also had to make preserving his tyre studs on increasingly damaged roads a key focus. But the one-time WRC event winner completed Saturday’s running without incident and will take a lead of 1min 06.3sec into Sunday’s deciding three-stage leg.

“It’s not been too bad,” Lappi said of his Saturday efforts. “I’ve been trying to save the tyres the whole afternoon and still be smart in terms of the pace. It is [hard to measure the pace], I’m not so used to it so it’s not the easiest job in the world. But it’s all under control.”

While Lappi heads into Sunday with his sights fixed on victory, Katsuta will be hoping to avoid leaving Sweden empty handed. As well as restoring his pride, the Japanese driver’s target on Sunday are the seven points up for grabs for topping leg three’s classification, plus the five points on offer for the Wolf Power Stage fastest time.

Of his Saturday morning exit, a dejected Katsuta said: “We did an okay time on the first one to gain the time and a much closer gap between me and EP [Lappi]. I wanted to continue pushing, maybe even more to gain more time but obviously I was trying very hard, and [in] one corner I carried a bit too much speed and snapped the rear and hit the snowbank. We were stuck and couldn’t get out.”