Jetsetter Lappi flies to glory in Swiss ERC finale
ERC: Day three report: 2013 FIA European Rally Championship, round 12 of 12, Rallye International du Valais (Switzerland)
The all-action 2013 FIA European Rally Championship reached its climax in Switzerland this afternoon with rising star Esapekka Lappi underlining his huge potential by winning an action-packed Rallye International du Valais alongside co-driver Janne Ferm.
Lappi began Saturday’s final leg – the longest of the rally at 146.30 kilometres – with an advantage of 43.7s over Andreas Aigner. Although Aigner trimmed Lappi’s lead to 35.7s when the ŠKODA Motorsport ace overshot a junction this morning, the Finn’s tenure of top spot was never truly threatened and he cemented his second ERC victory by going fastest of all on the final stage in his Michelin-shod Fabia Super 2000.
“It's been quite a good two weeks,” said Lappi, who won the China Rally Longyou six days ago. “I never believed I would win here and this is absolutely fantastic. For sure it's special on Tarmac, my first proper win. It's very good to end the season like this. We're improving on Tarmac and this is good for next season. The plan for next year is to do some races with ŠKODA. I have a contract with them and the ERC would be a good option.”
Florian Gonon secured ERC Production Car Cup honours after fellow Subaru Impreza R4 STI driver Aigner crashed out one kilometre from the start of stage 14. Sylvain Michel clinched the ERC 2WD spoils in a Citroën DS3 R3T by overhauling Laurent Reuche on the final stage when the two-time Valais winner’s Renault Clio R3 developed an engine fault. Ekaterina Stratieva won the ERC Ladies’ Trophy, while there were strong performances from GPD Mit Metal Racing Team and Team Renault Sport Technologies.
While Lappi shone out front, Aigner was also hugely impressive in his production-based Subaru. The Austrian was second overall when he hit trouble. While he and driver Barbara Watzl were uninjured, their Yokohama-shod car suffered extensive damage and they retired. Watzl’s non-finish means Aigner’s former navigator Jürgen Heigl wins the ERC Production Car Cup for Co-drivers*.
“We said we would try today because Andi is already the Production champion,” explained Aigner’s team boss Manfred Stohl. “We never give up but finally luck was not on our side. It’s very disappointing because it was a great performance by them.”
With Aigner out, Olivier Burri moved into second place with Vasily Gryazin climbing to third. Unfortunately for Russian teenager Gryazin, a crash close to the start of stage 15 left his Ford Fiesta S2000 sporting damage to the rear. Although Burri began the final two stages more than one minute clear of Craig Breen, an engine misfire robbed his Fiesta RRC of vital power. But the eight-time Valais winner held on to the runner-up spot albeit by a significantly reduced margin of eight seconds following a tense finale. “It was getting worse and worse on the last two stages,” said Burri. “I don’t know if we would have finished if we had another stage.”
For Breen, his capture of the final podium spot marked a reversal of fortune after a time penalty and broken powersteering added more than three minutes to his total time and dropped him out of contention for victory. His failure to score the 27 points needed to overhaul Bryan Bouffier in the battle to finish runner-up to champion Jan Kopecký in the final standings* means he settles for third in the overall classification.
“Third place is not what I came here for or hoped for before the rally,” said Breen. “It’s not an improvement from the beginning of the season but taking everything into account it’s not so bad.”
Peugeot Rally Academy team-mate Jérémi Ancian was saddled by four minutes of penalty but fought back from this setback and a puncture on stage 14, which he stopped to change, to snatch fourth spot from Jaroslav Orsák on the last stage. Ancian scored a total of seven stage wins in his 207 Super 2000, including both runs through the new Verbier stage today. His battling performance earned him the prestigious Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy.
Orsák, meanwhile, marked his first ERC appearance in a Fabia S2000 and his comeback from injury with fifth place and a stage win for GPD Mit Metal Racing Team. Nicolas Althaus finished sixth with Gonon seventh and Pascal Perroud eighth after a minor off-road excursion. Behind ERC 2WD winner Sylvain Michel in ninth, Romain Salinas came home a highly creditable 10th overall on his ERC debut for Team Renault Sport Technologies. Stéphane Lefebvre was leading the R2 category when he retired with engine failure on his Peugeot 208.