Hyundai’s Lappi sets early pace in Sardinia

Esapekka Lappi was fastest in the shakedown and first special stage in Sardinia

Works Hyundai driver Esapekka Lappi emerged as the early form driver after he topped the timing screens during Thursday morning’s Rally Italia Sardegna. The Finn then went fastest on that night’s superspecial stage in rally base Olbia.

“This was fun,” said Lappi, who outpaced M-Sport Ford rival Ott Tank by 0.2s. “You have enough space and you can play with the car. On the gravel you just go fully sideways and keep the foot on the throttle because it’s so slippery – that’s the only way to do it.”

Buoyed by the addition of WRC design and engineering guru Francois-Xavier Demaison to Hyundai’s technical team, Thierry Neuville was second fastest in shakedown and third quickest during SS1.

Asked if he can carry forward his early pace, Belgian driver Neuville said: “The key to success this weekend is to be constant, have a bit of luck as well with the weather, make the right tyre calls and survive because it’s going to be rough out there.

“We kick off tomorrow with a very bumpy stage already, there are some stages we know, there are a couple of new parts or, at least, opposite direction so quite a lot of new pacenotes. There are a lot of things that come together so the challenge is huge.”

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Although the potential for rain is an obvious threat, world champion and current title leader Kalle Rovanpera will relish the wet conditions. He’s due to run first on the road on Friday and will be hoping the rain leads to a more compact and stable surface.

“It’s a big challenge tomorrow for us,” the Finn said. “We will start the day and see what we can do. We will push for a clean day.”

Eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier says that this year’s Sardinia event is “more unpredictable than ever” due to the ever-present threat of rain.

Ogier, who has won on the Mediterranean island four times, is undertaking a partial campaign for the factory Toyota team in 2023 but is among the contenders for victory on the notoriously rough and tough gravel event, which runs until Sunday.

And that challenge has increased thanks to the threat of rain during Friday’s opening leg, which includes two passes through the 49.90-kilometre Monte Lerno test.

“It looks more unpredictable than ever, that’s a fact,” Ogier said. “Road position, it’s not even sure it will play a big role this weekend. With the weather [that’s] expected, I think first of all is making the right tyre call and staying out of trouble on the long stages.

So many parameters seem not really clear at the moment, the only thing that is clear is on our side, we feel ready, the car feels good. I am excited to start the rally, but it’s a bit like going to the unknown at the moment.”

Friday’s route is based south of Olbia and is formed of two loops of three stages over a competitive distance of 141.27 kilometres.

The returning 10.71-kilometre Tantariles test, part of the 2004 route, is up first from 08:40 CET followed by the 8.41 kilometres of Terranova and the 49.90-kilometre Monte Lerno stage.

Following service in Olbia’s Molo Brin port area, the morning stages run for a second time in the afternoon.

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