EP and Janne finish fourth in final WRC round
We have completed a difficult final round of the 2023 WRC season with a fourth-place for Esapekka and Janne at Rally Japan in our i20 N Rally1 Hybrid.
Our team also confirmed second overall in the FIA manufacturers’ championship, with Thierry third in the final drivers’ standings.
Having claimed two victories and 15 podiums this season, our team is now focused on coming back stronger with a refreshed line-up and clear winning intentions.
A Friday of attrition
The event featured incredibly tricky conditions across all three days. Friday was the wettest day of the event, and many crews were caught out on the narrow mountain roads – including two of our own.
Dani/Cándido were one of the first to fall victim to the treacherous roads, sliding off the road 11.8km into the first stage of the day and into an embankment. The crew were unhurt, but damage to their car was too great for them to continue.
“I’m really disappointed for myself and the team, but it was really difficult conditions,” said Dani. “Until then we were doing ok in the stage, we were taking no risks, but when you’re aquaplaning you can’t do anything.”
Belgians bounce back
Thierry and Martijn were on a charge to reduce the gap to first place in the afternoon loop when they ran into trouble. Metres after the start line of SS6, Thierry went through a compression in the road which sent him off into the trees, ending his day early.
While drier weather than Friday, the stages remained slippery on Saturday and Sunday, making grip levels hard to predict. Thierry and Martijn returned with a repaired car and were quickly back up to speed, and enjoyed a storming final day on Sunday. Their overall result does not reflect the pace of the crew in unpredictable conditions, but four stage wins and maximum Power Stage points was a small consolation.
“I’m quite happy this event is over now,” admitted Thierry. “It was still an enjoyable weekend but we could have been in the fight for victory considering the speed we had.”
Esapekka: the super special master
Esapekka and Janne had a trouble-free event, but struggled for grip and pace throughout the weekend. The Finns came into their own in the Toyota Stadium super special stage – held three times during the rally – winning the head-to-head battles every time and taking two stage wins on the 2.10km circuit.
Having had a cautious day on Friday, Esapekka was seventh heading into Saturday. A steady run was enough to elevate the crew into fourth place and grow a gap to the competitors behind. They were at risk of a charging Takamoto Katsuta on Sunday morning, but a fantastic run through SS20 Ena City was enough to keep him at bay – and confirm a 1-2 finish in stage for our team. The Finns went on to claim three bonus points with their Power Stage efforts.
“My pace was getting better and better day by day,” said Esapekka. “It is good to finish the final rally without any damage to the car. I’m looking forward to coming back even better in 2024.”
Our Team Principal Cyril summarised a difficult weekend for our team: “Rally Japan is a good summary of our season; one that has shown a number of positives with our crews and our team is willing to do everything to fight for wins and showing strong speed. However, we have also had some lost opportunities. This was the case this weekend.”
He added: “Finally, I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to our team-mate Craig. We have suffered a great loss this season. Craig had a passion and love for our sport that he could express like no other, and he is still greatly missed by everyone. His words should serve as an inspiration to all of us, even on our most difficult days. We hope to carry his spirit, drive and determination with us on the next stage of our journey.”
The 2024 WRC season will begin with Rallye Monte-Carlo on January 25-28.