International Rally of Queensland debutante Esapekka Lappi may be used to moose when driving in his native Finland, but says he can’t wait to meet some Australian wildlife – off the track – when he flies into the Sunshine Coast next week.
Lappi, 22, the current Finnish Rally Champion, will be aiming to take the lead in the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship during the Queensland event on 12-14 July. The rally is round three of a series that also visits China, Japan, Malaysia, New Caledonia and New Zealand and a step toward Lappi’s goal of a full-time career in the FIA World Rally Championship, the sport’s equivalent to Formula 1.
Before the Friday-night start at the Showdown @ the Showgrounds Super Special Stage at Nambour, Lappi will be testing his Skoda Fabia S2000 car in the Mary Valley forests, doing reconnaissance of the rally route and attending promotional activities.
But amid his busy schedule hopes to be able to meet some Australian fauna. “I don’t know much about it (the Sunshine Coast), but I heard it’s a very nice area and a good rally. I am still learning a lot so I am looking forward to it,” he said. “I don’t know much about Australia, but I have heard about their famous animals like the koala and the kangaroo. It would be nice to meet one.”
Lappi won the opening round of the championship in New Zealand in May, but slipped from first to third in the points standings when he damaged his car in New Caledonia last month. In Queensland, his performance will be watched by the visiting Skoda Head of Motorsport from the Czech Republic Michal Hrabanek and a team of factory mechanics flown out specially for the event.
But no-one is likely to be watching more closely than his MRF teammate Gaurav Gill, the two-time Indian Rally Champion. The highly experienced Gill won the 2010 International Rally of Queensland against a top-class field, won in New Caledonia last month and is expected to be the gifted Lappi’s fiercest opponent from the moment the lights go green at the Super Special Stage.
“Queensland is a very nice rally. It’s quite fast but also a good mix,” Gill said. “In regards to the super special stage, I have not done that kind of thing very often, but it sounds like fun and is sure great for the spectators.
“With support of the Skoda company we have an even more competitive car than last year. The set-up is better, it has more torque and is much more responsive on the throttle.”
Lappi also is looking forward to entertaining big crowds at the Showdown @ the Showgrounds. “I have done something a little bit like that in Poland. But it’s a new challenge and will be great for everybody who comes to watch us,” he said.
The Showdown @ the Showgrounds Super Special Stage will be run on a special 2.0 kilometre course on the Nambour Showgrounds main arena and its internal roads.