On top down under: ‘Flying Finns’ Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm are out to secure a historic title for ŠKODA Motorsport at the final round of this season’s FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Second place at the Rally Australia 2016, which runs from Thursday to Sunday (November 17-20), is all the works duo needs to claim victory in the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championship in the WRC2 category.
The ŠKODA brand is guaranteed to finish on top of the overall rankings: Teemu Suninen / Mikko Markkula currently lead the championship. They have contested the season in a ŠKODA FABIA R5 run by a privateer team Oreca, but will not be at the start line in Australia.
Esapekka Lappi has won the last three WRC2 rallies he started. After his triumph on the gravel at his home event in Finland, he then won the Rally Germany on asphalt. He then went on to complete a hat-trick of victories on his debut at the muddy Rally Great Britain at the end of October. In the process, he also came out on top in the direct duel with fellow ŠKODA driver Teemu Suninen, who finished third. Despite this, Suninen still leads the overall WRC2 rankings with 120 points. However, of the top drivers, only Lappi, who is currently in third place with 107 points, can score any points in Australia.
Victory or second place will suffice for ŠKODA Motorsport to come away with one of the most prestigious titles in its 115-year success story. Juho Hänninen had previously won the championship in 2011, driving a ŠKODA FABIA SUPER 2000 in the S-WRC category – the forerunner to WRC2. Lappi would adopt the WRC2 title from Nasser Al-Attiyah, who wrapped up the 2015 championship in Spain, at the wheel of a ŠKODA FABIA R5. For 25-year-old Lappi, winning the title would be the greatest success of his career – a career that has already seen him win the Finnish Rally Championship (2012) and the FIA European Rally Championship (ERC; 2014).
In 2013, Lappi / Ferm won their category at the Rally Queensland, which formed part of the FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC).
Few rallies have such a wide range of different conditions along their route. Narrow sections that require the drivers’ utmost attention alternate with fast, long sections through Australia’s rainforests. It is not only dangerous animals that can be found at the roadside, but also numerous trees, which are even more dangerous for the drivers as they do not forgive any lack of concentration. Extremely fine sand makes things more difficult still, as it both reduces the level of grip and, in combination with the merciless Australian sun and tall trees, can create light effects that impede the driver.
As if the conditions were not extreme enough, the drivers will also have to face one of the WRC season’s longest special stages on Saturday. At a length of 50.8 kilometres, ‘Nambucca’ is longer than a marathon. The ‘Wedding Bells’ Power Stage will bring proceedings to a close on Sunday. Whatever happens, ŠKODA will then be able to celebrate a successful season, as Czech car maker’s high-tech, four-wheel drive car has won nine of the last ten WRC2 rallies.
Did you know that…
…the Rally Australia has been held since 1988?
The inaugural rally formed part of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC). Since 1989 it has been part of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
…ŠKODA Motorsport is also leading the WRC2 team ranking?
With 144 points, the Czechs are ahead of M-Sport (131) and Oreca (117).
…the drivers can only score world championship points if they have registered for the WRC2 category?
Each driver can score points towards the overall WRC2 standings in seven rallies over the course of the year. The top six results count.
…three ŠKODA FABIA R5s have entered the Rally Australia?
Besides works duo Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm, two customer duos have also registered for the WRC2 category: Nicolás Fuchs / Fernando Mussano and Khalid Al-Suwaidi / Marshall Clarke.
…Australia is the sixth-largest country on Earth with an area of around 7.7 million square kilometres?
The coast is a mighty 35,876 km long. In addition, the Australian Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland, is the world’s largest reef. It is 2,300 kilometres long and the largest structure created by living things on Earth.
…there are more kangaroos than people in Australia?
The continent of Australia is home to around 34 million kangaroos. The land down under has a human population of approximately 23 million.
…the name ‘kangaroo’ came about due to a misunderstanding?
British sailor James Cook, the first European to see the animal, is said to have asked the Aboriginals what they are called. The Aboriginals did not know English and answered “gang-oo-roo”, which means “I don’t understand” in their language.
…restaurants in Australia have to pay for an extra licence in order to sell alcohol?
‘BYO’ restaurants (bring your own) avoid this fee and allow their guests to consume beer or wine which they have brought with them.
…turnout for elections to the House of Representatives and the Senate in Australia has never been lower than 94% in the last 50 years?
This is because it is a civic obligation to vote. Non-voters face a $20 fine, while repeat offenders may even face imprisonment.