Esapekka Lappi closed in on the 2014 FIA European Rally Championship title on Saturday after winning Rallye International du Valais in Switzerland, the penultimate round in the series.

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 Skoda Motorsport Fabia Super 2000. It was his second Valais win in as many seasons.

His ERC title advantage over Skoda team-mate Sepp Wiegand, who finished third despite being delayed by a puncture on Friday and a brake issue on Saturday morning, now 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.

"I have to thank the team because my car was working the whole weekend without any problems," said Lappi. "We're in a strong position for the title after a perfect rally. We're not confirmed as champions yet but we're quite close. Yesterday we managed to do some good times and make the gap bigger. Today was more about surviving. I'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."

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 Kajetanowicz'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 Breen's no longer in title contention with Lappi now out of reach, he can still beat Wiegand to take 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 Sebastien Carron was also out of luck in the closing stages when a driveshaft break forced him to retire. Jaroslav Ors?k (engine) and Jarom?r 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 208T16's steering on a post. Bruno Magalhaes also elected to stop early due to handling issues.

Nicolas Althaus, Pascal Perroud, Florian Gonon and Jean-Philippe Radoux completed the top 10.

Gonon also claimed a dominant ERC Production Car Cup victory, his second in Switzerland in as many seasons. Mark Higgins led initially in JRM's Group N-specification Subaru WRX STI but when the Briton retired due to a transmission failure following Friday's first stage, experienced Swiss Gonon was left in the clear in a Subaru Impreza R4 STI.

Meanwhile, Laurent Reuche gave the Renault Clio R3T a spectacular European Rally Championship debut by taking the all-new machine to ERC 2WD glory, while Andrea Crugnola kept alive his hopes of winning the inaugural ERC Junior crown - and a prize drive in an R5 car - by scoring his maiden victory in the young-driver category. The Italian led from Thursday's opening stage and never faltered behind the wheel of his Napoca Rally Academy-run Peugeot R2 R2, even when an engine issue caused concern on Friday afternoon.

Top 10 positions (after 19 stages, 252.54 kilometres)

1. Esapekka Lappi (FIN)/Janne Ferm (FIN) ?KODA Fabia S2000 2h46m22.4s
2. Craig Breen (IRL)/Scott Martin (GBR) Peugeot 208T16 +42.0s
3. Sepp Wiegand (DEU)/Frank Christian (DEU) ?KODA Fabia S2000 +3m04.1s
4. Jonathan Hirschi (CHE)/Vincent Landais (FRA) Peugeot 208T16 +4m10.2s
5. Olivier Burri (CHE)/Jean-Jacques Ferrero (FRA) Ford Fiesta R5 +4m17.8s
6. Robert Consani (FRA)/Maxime Vilmot (FRA) Peugeot 207 S2000 +4m24.8s
7. Nicolas Althaus (CHE)/Alain Ioset (CHE) ?KODA Fabia S2000 +5m56.9s
8. Pascal Perroud (CHE)/Quentin Marchand (CHE) ?KODA Fabia S2000 +6m22.5s
9. Florian Gonon (CHE)/Michel Horgnies (CHE) Subaru Impreza R4 STI +7m08.9s
10. Jean-Philippe Radoux (CHE)/Jean-N?el Gregoire (CHE) Ford Fiesta R5 +9m53.5s
FIA ERC Production Car: Florian Gonon (CHE)/Michel Horgnies (CHE) Subaru Impreza R4 STIFIA ERC 2WD: Laurent Reuche (CHE)/Jean Deriaz (CHE) Renault Clio R3TFIA ERC Junior: Andrea Crugnola (ITA)/Michele Ferrara (ITA) Peugeot 208 R2FIA ERC Ladies' Trophy: Maude Studer (CHE) Renault Twingo R1Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy: Craig Breen (IRL) Peugeot 208T16

 

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