Esapekka Lappi underlined his huge potential by winning an action-packed Rallye International du Valais on Saturday, the final round of the 2013 FIA European Rally Championship.
Lappi began the final leg – the longest of the rally at 146.30 kilometres – with an advantage of 43.7s over Andreas Aigner. Although Aigner trimmed Lappi's lead to 35.7s when the Skoda Motorsport ace overshot a junction in the morning, the Finn's tenure of top spot was never truly threatened and he cemented his second ERC victory by going fastest of all on the final stage in his Michelin-shod Fabia Super 2000.
“It's been quite a good two weeks,” said Lappi, who won the China Rally Longyou six days ago. “I never believed I would win here and this is absolutely fantastic. For sure it's special on Tarmac, my first proper win. It's very good to end the season like this. We're improving on Tarmac and this is good for next season.
“The plan for next year is to do some races with Skoda. I have a contract with them and the ERC would be a good option.”
While Lappi shone out front, Aigner was also hugely impressive in his production-based Subaru. The Austrian was second overall when he hit trouble. While he and co-driver Barbara Watzl were uninjured, their Yokohama-shod car suffered extensive damage and they retired. Watzl's non-finish means Aigner's former navigator Jürgen Heigl wins the ERC Production Car Cup for Co-drivers.
“We said we would try today because Andi is already the Production champion,” explained Aigner's team boss Manfred Stohl. “We never give up but finally luck was not on our side. It's very disappointing because it was a great performance by them.”
With Aigner out, Olivier Burri moved into second place with Vasily Gryazin climbing to third. Unfortunately for Russian teenager Gryazin, a crash close to the start of stage 15 left his Ford Fiesta S2000 sporting damage to the rear.
Meanwhile, although Burri began the final two stages more than one minute clear of Craig Breen, an engine misfire robbed his Fiesta RRC of vital power. But the eight-time Valais winner held on to the runner-up spot albeit by a significantly reduced margin of eight seconds following a tense finale.
“It was getting worse and worse on the last two stages,” said Burri. “I don't know if we would have finished if we had another stage.”
For Breen, his capture of the final podium spot marked a reversal of fortune after a time penalty and broken powersteering added more than three minutes to his total time and dropped him out of contention for victory. His failure to score the 27 points needed to overhaul Bryan Bouffier in the battle to finish runner-up to champion Jan Kopecký in the final standings means he settles for third in the overall classification.