Esapekka Lappi believes his Friday performance at Rally Mexico ranks as one of his strongest days in the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Finn fully capitalised on his more favourable road position to finish the Friday leg 5.3s clear of Toyota Gazoo Racing's Sebastien Ogier – the most recent winner of the gravel event when it was last held in 2020.
Lappi is going in search of only his second top-flight win since Rally Finland six years ago and his first in Hyundai Motorsport colours after joining the squad during the off-season.
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Back-to-back stage wins in the afternoon's ‘Las Minas' and ‘Las Dunas' speed tests gave Lappi some much-needed breathing space over his nearest pursuer going into Saturday. Comprising nine stages, it is the longest of the weekend at 126.52km.
“I am a bit surprised – but I take it as it is. This has probably been one of the best days of my career,” said an ice cool Lappi, who grabbed top spot on Friday morning's opener and never looked back.
“I hoped that I could fight at the top but to be leading and fighting all the time against Seb was not in my mind. I was confident that our pace would be competitive, but I didn't really give it much thought.
“This is a good car. We did a lot of work during Monte-Carlo and Sweden, as well as between those events. We can now stop searching for the right set-up because I think we've found what I like, so I can just concentrate on the driving.
“You can then gain time here and there,” he added. “I've been trying to keep it clean, close to the limit, have good acceleration out of the corners and just see at the end what times we have set. It's been a positive start.”
Hyundai Motorsport's Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul was full of praise for Lappi, saying: “We can be happy with this initial performance by Esapekka, who has done a great job to be ahead of Seb Ogier.”
Thierry Neuville is the next best-placed Hyundai driver in fourth position, 9.7s adrift of third-placed Elfyn Evans.