Esapekka Lappi and Sepp Wiegand will battle for the FIA European Rally Championship on the final round in Corsica next month after the Å KODA Motorsport aces finished first and third respectively on Rallye International du Valais in Switzerland today.
Co-driven by fellow Finn Janne Ferm, Lappi took the lead on stage five and was never threatened during an ice-cool performance in his Michelin-shod Fabia Super 2000 for his second Valais win in as many seasons.
His ERC title advantage over Wiegand, who was delayed by a puncture on Friday and a brake issue this morning, stands at 34 points with a maximum of 39 up for grabs on the season-closing Giru di Corsica-Tour de Corse from 6-8 November.
â€œI have to thank the team because my car was working the whole weekend without any problems,â€ said Lappi. â€œWeâ€™re in a strong position for the title after a perfect rally. Weâ€™re not confirmed as champions yet but weâ€™re quite close. Yesterday we managed to do some good times and make the gap bigger. Today was more about surviving. Iâ€™ve never been to Corsica before so that will be another new challenge but if I only need a few points I will not be going there to try to win.â€
Wiegand led after four stages but gradually slipped back on the challenging mountain stages, which included several gravel sections on leg three. However, his capture of third place following Kajetan Kajetanowiczâ€™s retirement due to an engine fire in his Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta R5 on stage 16, means he can still become ERC champion.
Craig Breen scored nine stage wins on his way to second overall and the prestigious Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy for Peugeot Rally Academy. He could have challenged for victory but for a time-consuming puncture on stage three. Although Breenâ€™s no longer in title contention with Lappi now out of reach, he can still beat Wiegand to the runner-up spot.
Kajetanowicz, who like Wiegand was making his Valais debut, started the final leg in second but was unable to keep Breen at bay before an oil leak triggered his exit and ended his hopes of the ERC crown But not before the LOTOS Rally Team driver had scored a stage best.
Ex-circuit racer Jonathan Hirschi belied his lack of experience to finish as the top Swiss in fourth with eight-time Valais winner Olivier Burri fifth and Robert Consani sixth. Although Consani was back in the points following a frustrating recent run, his bad luck continued when a puncture dropped him out of fourth on the final stage. Swiss champion SÃ©bastien Carron was also out of luck in the closing stages when a driveshaft break forced him to retire. Jaroslav OrsÃ¡k (engine) and JaromÃr Tarabus (off-road) also failed to go the distance. Kevin Abbring restarted on day two and scored a succession of fastest times but stopped early after knocking his Peugeot 208T16â€™s steering on a post. Bruno MagalhÃ£es also elected to stop early due to handling issues.
Nicolas Althaus, Pascal Perroud, Florian Gonon and Jean-Philippe Radoux completed the top 10 with ERC stalwart AntonÃn TlusÅ¥Ã¡k coming home 11th.