Competing in New Zealand for the first time, 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 2013 International Rally of Whangarei held on May 18-19.
Driving the MRF Tyres team Skoda Fabia S2000, Lappi extended his overnight lead to a winning margin of 4m 3.2s 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.
Held over roads through rural Whangarei and Kaipara Districts the rally provided a variety of testing conditions from fog, thick damp gravel, sun drenched crests and brows to heavy rain showers during the two-day journey of 730.40km.
Teams from India, Finland, New Caledonia, Australia and throughout New Zealand contested the 16 special stages with 28 of the 40 starting the final day making it to the end.
Even though he pushed his team-mate hard on the final day, Gaurav Gill in the second MRF Tyres team Skoda was hampered by a rear differential mechanical failure during the 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.”
Lappi heads home with 39 points – the maximum on offer. Gill trails by nine with six rounds remaining.
Securing a win in the chasing Brian Green Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship field, Geraldine based Hayden Paddon continued his dominating form. Defending champion Richard Mason followed in second.
First home in the BNT Historic category was Christchurch’s Jeff Judd and Malcolm Read in the Ford Escort RS1800.
APRC cars will now head to the series second round, the Rallye de Nouvelle Calédonie on June 15-16.
New Zealand competitors have a break until the third round – being held in the Manawatu at the Daybreaker Rally on June 29.