Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team test driver Esapekka Lappi and his co-driver Janne Fern will make their debut at the top level of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) on the Rally de Portugal.
Lappi will join fellow Finns Jari-Matti Latvala and Juho Hänninen in the squad for the event, taking place from 19 to 21 May. He will drive a third Toyota Yaris WRC at the start of a limited programme of WRC rounds, chosen in line with the team’s development requirements.
The car has performed well since its debut at the start of the season on the Rallye Monte-Carlo and was driven to victory by Latvala in just its second outing, on Rally Sweden in February. The team are continuing to learn from each event; adding a third car when needed will help them accelerate development of the Yaris WRC.
Lappi is one of the brightest prospects in rallying and was winner of the WRC 2 title last year. He joined Toyota Gazoo Racing prior the 2017 season and has got to know the Yaris WRC during the test programme. Through real competition the 26-year-old will be able to gain further experience and sharpen his competition skills.
Team Principal Tommi Mäkinen said: “Esapekka is a very young and very hungry driver, this is for sure, but of course he has not had so much time to test the car before his first rally. I know that he will do his best, and the objective for him personally is the same as the objective for the whole team: he needs to finish the rallies and collect as much information as possible. There is still a lot of progress that we can make with our car and he is going to be an important part of that development process.”
Lappi added: “This is the moment I have been working for all of my life. It is an amazing opportunity to drive a World Rally Car and I am so happy. I have not had a lot of testing with Yaris WRC so I will need to build my experience as it is a very big step up from the level of rallying I’ve been involved in up to now.”
Esapekka Lappi career highlights
Date of birth: 17 January 1991
2007: Karting Finnish Champion
2008: Rally sprint (won all the rounds)
2009: First rally
2011: First WRC rally (Rally Finland, Rookie of the Year award)
2012: Finnish Rally Champion (won all the rounds)
2013: First WRC 2 victory in Vodafone Rally de Portugal
2014: FIA ERC Champion
2016: WRC 2 World Rally Champion (5 wins)
WRC 2 Statistics
WRC 2 starts: 17, Victories: 7, Podiums: 11,
Points scored: 245, Stage wins: 126