Lappi: Tanak has been “fooling us” over Hyundai struggles

Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi says the pace of Rally Finland leader Ott Tanak proves that the 2019 world rally champion has been fooling everyone about Hyundai’s struggles.

Esapekka Lappi, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Tanak turned heads throughout Friday’s running to end the day with three stage wins and a 3.8s lead over Lappi, who headed Toyota’s four car contingent.

Prior to the rally, Toyota were heavily tipped to dominate the fast gravel event given the GR Yaris has emerged as the pacesetting Rally1 car this year, with Kalle Rovanpera winning five of the seven rallies to date.

The team is also based in the proximity of the host city Jyvaskyla and boasts two previous Rally Finland winners in its ranks in Elfyn Evans (2021) and Lappi, who is the last Finn to win on home soil in 2017.

Likewise, Hyundai has struggled for speed and reliability with its all-new i20 N this season, with Tanak taking the operation's only win in Sardinia back in June.

Asked if he was surprised by Tanak’s pace, Lappi said: “Yes and no. The shakedown game yesterday and the comments that we [Toyota] are unbeatable is bull****. He was just fooling us clearly but I’m not surprised Ott is fast here in Finland.”

Looking to score a second career WRC win, Lappi was however content with his performance, revealing that he upped his game in the afternoon that resulted in three consecutive stage wins to reel in Tanak.

“We stepped up with the speed a little bit in the afternoon,” he added. “I think the morning speed was okay but we managed to go a bit faster and still it feels comfortable without any moments.”

Responding to Lappi’s comments that Tanak had been “fooling” his rivals, the two-time Rally Finland winner said: “Well maybe they [Toyota] are making up how slow they are.”

Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

However, Tanak did admit that he was pushing to the limit to extract the most from his i20 N to achieve his stages times.

“For sure, it seems as though the Toyota boys have been very slow to wake up this morning and now they are coming and getting to the speed they should have been all the time,” he said.

“This morning since the first corner I was on it and I left nothing behind. I knew it was the only way.

“In the morning I was having more moments but you cannot do this for all 300km of stages, so this afternoon we have been a bit backing off in places to make sure we keep a good rhythm.

“There are places we miss quite a bit with some handling behaviour to do the stage times I would like to. The car is not slow it is just a bit difficult to drive, and I’m doing unexpected things, but the speed is there.

“I have been living on the edge and it’s mentally it has been difficult.”

Tanak is the only Hyundai in a top four that includes three Toyotas in the form of Lappi, Evans and Rovanpera. The sole remaining i20 N of Thierry Neuville, following Oliver Solberg’s retirement, is seventh, 50.2s adrift.

Meanwhile, rally favourite and championship leader Rovanpera is 21.0s back heading into Saturday having been forced to sweep the roads.

Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

The Finn was pushing hard throughout and was lucky to avoid a major incident when he ran wide at a left corner that made his co-driver Jonne Halttunen yelp. Rovanpera wrestled the car back and brushed off the moment when talking to media.

“It was difficult, I expected that here the cleaning would be quite bad, but it was quite tricky,” said Rovanpera. “I had to push the whole day but I was still losing some time. It was never easy.”

When asked about the close call on the Friday's final stage, he said: “It was a corner which I checked in the recce and I knew you could go wide, if you go wide.

“I knew that on the second pass with the small cars [that ran before us] the line can be that you can never get into the corner, and it was exactly like this. We went out but I was sure there was nothing [in the ditch].”

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