Esapekka Lappi admits it’s tight at the top in the race to win the 2014 FIA European Rally Championship.
The ace Finn started Barum Czech Rally Zlín leading the standings by 40 points following ERC wins in Latvia and Northern Ireland earlier this season.
But a crash on leg one of the asphalt event and a strong performance from his ŠKODA Motorsport team-mate Sepp Wiegand means the gap between the two rising stars is down to just 19 points heading to the closing rounds of the season.
“It’s getting tight but it was a stupid mistake and because of this I have not taken my chance in the championship,” said Lappi. “Unfortunately that’s how it goes. Sometimes you make big mistakes and sometimes small and the result is the same.”
Following repairs to his Fabia Super 2000, Lappi restarted on Sunday and claimed five bonus points for finishing the leg in third place following a hat-trick of stage bests alongside co-driver Janne Ferm. He could have been faster still but for an off on Sunday’s first test.
“For sure it was good to be back but on the first one I made a mistake and lost some time,” he said. “There was a mistake in my pacenotes. There was one corner in the start and if you look only with your eyes the eyes are lying that the road is going right even if it’s correctly going to the left and I didn’t have it in my pacenotes so I went right to the field so I have to make a loop and it took some time to come back.”
Kevin Abbring’s challenge on round eight of the FIA European Rally Championship might have begun with a “memorable moment” but the euphoria would be short-lived for the unlucky Peugeot Rally Academy ace.
Dutchman Abbring was leading Barum Czech Rally Zlín following a hat-trick of stage wins only for a problem to develop with a connection to the Peugeot 208T16’s water pump and force him to retire on the fourth stage of the all-asphalt counter.
“After our pre-rally test and from what we saw on the Qualifying Stage, we had a good set-up for this event,” said Abbring, who has led on his previous four ERC starts alongside British co-driver Seb Marshall. “It was a memorable moment when I won the stage in Zlín in front of 20,000 spectators and I felt confident behind the wheel of my 208T16, even though it’s never easy to win here against all the ŠKODAs which are on home soil.
“Despite failing to finish, we were able to show that the 208T16 was fast and competitive, irrespective of the conditions. I was also pleased with my pacenote system, which proved quite effective. It was such a shame to have to retire because we were the fastest crew out there.”
Mark Higgins gave the British JRM team’s all-new Group N-specification Subaru WRX STI its competition debut on round eight of the FIA European Rally Championship and impressed by scoring several class stage bests.
Higgins, a three-time British champion, hadn’t competed on Barum Czech Rally Zlín since 2003 and sampled the car for the first time in shakedown on Friday morning.
Despite his lack of familiarity with the JRM machine, which has been built in partnership with Subaru Tecnica International in Japan, Higgins was fastest in the ERC Production Car Cup on three occasions and was closing on the category lead when a suspected electrical issue forced him to retire following Sunday’s first stage.
“We’re all disappointed that we didn’t get to finish the job we started but I really enjoyed the car and I think this event has shown the performance gain that can be had from the newest Group N car to be introduced to the class,” said Higgins. “Running second in the ERC Production Car Cup against R4 opposition – on the car’s first-ever event – is something we can all be proud of.
“The brief was to get the car to the finish and not do anything silly, but the whole package was working incredibly well on the first day and that allowed us to push our way up the leaderboard to second place and 15th overall. Everything on the car worked fantastically well.”
Higgins, co-driver Carl Williamson and the JRM team will be back on ERC duty with its Subaru WRX STI on Rallye International du Valais in Switzerland from 23-25 October. JRM Executive Director, James Rumsey, is expecting the team to build on its promising showing in the Czech Republic.
“It’s been a very positive weekend for JRM and I want to thank all of our supporters and partners for making it happen. The sedan version of the WRX STI that we’ve built is the newest car to come to the Group N category and I think we’ve shown it has immense speed and performance after this showing.
“We will investigate the cause of the suspected electrical issue that forced Mark and Carl into retirement when we get back to the JRM factory this week and we’ll be ready to continue our exciting Group N programme in Switzerland.”