Hyundai's Lappi confident his team will conquer Safari Rally

Hyundai driver Esapekka Lappi in action at the Rally Italia Sardegna. [Courtesy]

For the last three editions, South Korean outfit Hyundai Motorsport has failed to beat Toyota Gazoo on Kenyan soil.

There is a chance the jinx could be broken this weekend in the third leg of the 2024 World Rally Championship (WRC), the Safari Rally that revs-off in Naivasha on Thursday.

The belief has been reaffirmed by Hyundai speedster Esapekka Lappi who says they are very much ready for the tough Kenyan outing.

Lappi believes their stable has the most formidable line up to conquer the Safari this season.

The team is comprised of Lappi, current series leader Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo and 2019 WRC champion Ott Tanak.

So far, Neuville and Lappi have put Hyundai ahead on the standings with victories in Monte-Carlo and Sweden respectively.

Lappi, who currently is placed sixth on the WRC log on 19 points, further affirms that putting their house in order ahead of the Safari Rally will give them an edge over their perennial rivals Toyota and M-Sport Ford.

He is therefore warning the other teams to prepare for a tough battle.

"We went back to the drawing board to work on our shortcomings," he told Standard Sports.

"We rectified some of the weaknesses we encountered in the Safari Rally last season, we are also continuing to build the blocks that will help us charge to the highest level in the sport and go for the championships," he said.

"I believe our i20 N Rally1 Hybrid car is ready for the Kenyan landscape this year. We are targeting more frequent victories now because the squad we have is giving us great confidence in the series," he said.

This week’s Safari Rally Kenya is already shaping up to be one of the most challenging since the event’s return to the FIA World Rally Championship in 2021.

Heavy rain in the days leading to the recce has muddied the roads, with some of the crews struggling in some sections.

Bringing the event forward in the calendar has returned the Safari to its classic March date, which aligns more closely with the rainy season in the country.

In an effort to deal with potentially flooded roads, many of the cars are running snorkels, which allow the engine to breathe whilst reducing the risk of ingesting water.

Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala admitted the event could provide a different – and sterner – test than in previous years. Predictably, given his team’s 100 per cent success rate on the modern event, he’s excited to be back in Naivasha.

“The Safari Rally is an event we always look forward to,” he said.

“This year, it could bring a different challenge with the change of date: now it’s the rainy season in Kenya so there’s more risk of difficult conditions. When it rains there, the stages can get extremely slippery and it can be quite a challenge for the drivers to tackle.

“Patience is always very important, and especially if the weather gets difficult. Being the smartest can be the key, rather than being the fastest. All of our drivers have shown what it takes to do well there and we would really like to see another Toyota win. It’s difficult to make significant changes to the car for this one event, but we are introducing a general update for the suspension. It’s also great that we can fit snorkels to the cars, which will not only look quite cool but also help if there is more water on the road.”

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