Esapekka Lappi is a new rally superstar. Importantly, Lappi’s surprise victory in Rally Finland wasn’t due to luck as he took the lead well before the regular frontrunners hit trouble. Rally Finland was a crazy event (none of the top 5 finishers had won a rally before) but Lappi kept his head and marked himself as a star of the future.
After 3 days and 350km of dusty gravel roads, Thierry Neuville beat Elfyn Evans in Rally Argentina by just 7 tenths of a second! That’s the 3rd closest finish in WRC history. It was especially heartbreaking for Evans (who has never won before) since he led most of the event but spent almost 2 days watching his comfortable lead disappear with engine and brake problems. He still could’ve held on if it wasn’t for a tiny mistake on the final stage. Those 7 tenths will haunt him.
The interaction between Kris Meeke and his co-driver, Paul Nagle, is interesting in this onboard video as they go off course but recover to win Rally Mexico. The panic is clear as their accident unfolds and it’s a tense atmosphere inside the car after the finish (especially considering they won)!
Rally Mexico concluded in stunning fashion when the leader crashed into the spectator carpark with just 1km to go! Kris Meeke was under no pressure for victory when he speared off the road at high speed and he had to navigate through parked cars to get back on course. He held on for the win and made a joke later about skipping the carpark fee.
Thierry Neuville has endured a nightmare start to 2017 after crashing out of the lead in both the Monte Carlo AND Swedish Rallies. Even worse is that both accidents were the result of tiny mistakes (whilst bigger errors from his rivals went unpunished). Those 2 lost wins, and the 50 lost points, may come back to haunt Neuville later in the season.
There have been some amazing moments this year, and if nothing else, this is a snapshot of why motorsport can be so much fun.
Kris Meeke set a new record at Rally Finland making it the fastest ever event in WRC history. The cars frequently reached over 200kph with an AVERAGE speed of 126kph which is mighty fast on narrow forest roads with jumps.
Toyota’s last lap mechanical failure at Le Mans is one of the biggest motorsport stories of 2016. Having covered more than 5,200km the leading car ground to a halt with only 3 minutes left on the clock. Toyota lost Le Mans in 1994 when their leading car suffered mechanical problems two hours from the finish, and they also suffered similar defeats in 1999 and 2014. Getting so close only to miss out once again is just devastating.
Incredibly, this sort of last-gasp failure has happened to Toyota before.
When Tommi Makinen crashed out of Rally GB at the end of the 1998 WRC season, Carlos Sainz only had to cross the finish line to win the World Championship. He cheekily described his chances of doing so as 99% but those words would come back to haunt him.
At the end of the final stage Sainz was racing past fans who had packed in to see the finish. However, all was not well. With roughly 300 metres to go the Toyota suffered a catastrophic engine failure that also resulted in a small fire. Unable to push the car over the line and then all the way back to the service park, Sainz was left by the side of the road to ponder how he lost the World Championship within sight of the finish. Toyota’s usually strong engine failed at the worst possible moment.
Toyota’s Le Mans team handled their recent disappointment with great dignity and respect. In 1998 Carlos Sainz’s Co-Driver, Luis Moya, was a little less reserved and ended up throwing his helmet through the Corolla’s rear windscreen.
This short film captures the anguish and despair from 1998 that Toyota had to re-live again under different circumstances 18 years later.
It’s not often you see a 57 year old taking their first win at the highest level of an international sport but that’s exactly what happened at Rally Argentina. Hayden Paddon’s historic victory in the World Rally Championship (the first for a New Zealander) was also the first win for his co-driver, John Kennard, who made his WRC début way back in 1985! Kennard is now the oldest co-driver to win a WRC event and is likely to hold onto that record for a long time to come.