22-year-old Finn Esapekka Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm have taken out this year’s opening round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) with a start-to-finish leading performance at the International Rally of Whangarei held this weekend 18-19 May.
Driving the MRF Tyres team Skoda Fabia S2000 Lappi extended his overnight lead to a winning margin of more than four minutes, after winning seven of the day’s eight remaining special stages.
Second was team-mate Gaurav Gill from India and co-driver Glenn Macneall while Nelson based Kiwi Ben Hunt and co-driver Tony Rawstorn finished third in their international specification Subaru STI.
Even though he pushed his team-mate hard, Gaurav Gill in the second MRF Tyres team Skoda was hampered by a rear differential mechanical failure during this morning’s loop of four stages.
Continuing with an error free run ensured the reigning Finnish rally champion was never pressured for the top spot during the afternoon’s repeat loop through the Waipu Gorge, Batley, Wairere and Cassidy road stages.
Returning to Whangarei’s Quayside Town Basin for the ceremonial finish, Lappi was thrilled at taking victory on his first visit to roads so well known to his mentors in the World Rally Championship: “A very good result,” said Lappi as he arrived. “We’ve had heavy rain and it got really muddy in some places with fog as well on the Saturday. I had to focus on keeping rhythm to suit these roads but basically they were how I thought they were going to be.”
Happy to be able to match the pace of his team-mate when things ran smoothly, Gill was pleased with his overall result: “I love the roads here and I really enjoyed it this year. We went faster than last year so hopefully by next year we will be faster again and hopefully we will be aiming to win. We always love the roads in New Zealand – they teach you new things.”
Just outside the podium was Queensland pairing of Matt van Tuinen and co-driver Erin Kelly in a Subaru STI while Christchurch’s Josh Marston and Mal Peden finished as leading two-wheel-drive in the Ford Fiesta R2 – fifth overall.
Perth based Kiwi Michael Young, the only New Zealander registered for this year’s APRC finished third in the points, bringing the Cusco backed Toyota Vitz home in ninth place overall.
Lappi heads home with 39 points – the maximum on offer. Gill trails by nine with six rounds remaining.
Following post-event technical checks the APRC cars will be released to the teams for cleaning and packing in to shipping containers where they will be transported to the series second round: Rallye de Nouvelle Caledonie 15 to 16 June.
Rally of Whangarei – Final APRC Results
1. Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm ,Skoda Fabia S2000, 2h51m18.3
2. Gaurav Gill / Glenn Macneall, Skoda Fabia S2000 India +4m03.2
3. Ben Hunt / Tony Rawstorn, Subaru Impreza WRX New Zealand +8min34.0
4. Matt Van / Tuinen Erin Kelly, Subaru Impreza WRX Australia +12min13.2
5. Josh Marston / Malcolm Peden, Ford Fiesta R2 New Zealand +16min15.7
6. Phil Campbell / Venita Fabbro, Ford Fiesta R2 New Zealand +16min46.3
7. Bruce Fullerton / Hugh Reardon-Smith, Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX Australia +28m06.9
8. Simon Knowles / Margot Knowles, Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX Australia +31m43.0
9. Michael Young / Daniel Willson, Toyota Vitz RS New Zealand +34m35.5
10. Makoto Kawahara / Sae Kitagawa, Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX Japan +37m08.5
Story by Lance Hastie – www.aprc.tv
Photos by Ross Hyde.