Esapekka Lappi Takes Final 2020 WRC Seat At M-Sport
Citroen WRC exile Esapekka Lappi has officially joined the M-Sport ford team for the 2020 World Rally Championship. The Finn, who was left stranded after Citroen dramatically pulled out of the sport just weeks after the season ended, will take the final seat for the 2020 line-up, with the season commencing in Monte-Carlo in just three weeks time with testing already well under way.
The Finn was just one of many drivers out of contract for the 2020 season competiting for the final M-Sport seat. It was believed that Kris Meeke, Andreas Mikkelsen, Craig Breen, Hayden Paddon and Pontus Tidemand were all battling for the 2020 seat, but in the end it was rally-winner Lappi who took the all important drive.
He will be joining fellow-Finn Teemu Suninen, entering a second season with the British outfit. After the departure of team-leader Elfyn Evans to Toyota, a move many did not see coming, all put into motion by the shock departure of World Champion Ott Tanak from Toyota to Hyundai, there is no clear No.1 driver in the line-up, with it rumoured that Lappi and Suninen will be driving on a level playing field.
Meanwhile M-Sport will be running a third car, largely thanks to the withdrawal of Citroen, meaning that only be nine top-tier WRC cars. Young Brit Gus Greensmith will be taking that role. The 23 year old from Manchester finished third in the WRC-2 Pro category last year, only losing out to Kalle Rovanperä, who will now be driving at Toyota, and Mads Østberg. Greensmith was able to have three rallies in the top-tier M-Sport car last year, and whilst his rallies at Portugal and Finland were plagued by reliability problems, his third and final outing in Germany was mightily impressive, finishing in ninth place, the highest finish for M-Sport on that particular weekend.
Whilst it isn’t a full-calendar contract, Greensmith will start his programme with Monte Carlo later this month, before tackling Mexico, Argentina, Portugal, Sardinia, Finland, Turkey, Germany and Wales.
As for Lappi, the Finn was seeming to mature in his first and now final season with Citroen last year alongside six-time World Champion Sebastien Ogier. The 28 year old took three 2nd places, in Sweden, Finland and Turkey, with the later being the final Citroen 1-2, where he was closely battling with his team-mate Ogier for the win.
In his three years in WRC, the Finn has claimed six podiums and a memorable win at Rally Finland in 2017 that made pundits believe that he was a future World Champion.
Meanwhile Suninen, now aged just 25, is entering his second full-season of WRC, after claiming two podiums in the past two years including a strong second place at Sardinia where he was just twelve seconds off the lead. Many fans will remember that he had led Rally Sweden for half of the rally in an intense battle with Ott Tanak before making a small mistake that forced him into retirement.
M-Sport will be fielding the youngest line-up out of the three major teams alongside Hyundai and Toyota, and will face a stiff challenge if they want to make it a three-horse race next season with Hyundai having a line-up comprising of experienced talents such as reigning champion Ott Tanak, thirteen-time rally winner Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo, and arguably the greatest rally driver of all time: Sebasiten Loeb, whilst Toyota hold Elfyn Evans, Sebastien Ogier and 19 year old Kalle Rovanpera.
The hole left by Citroen’s shock departure means that drivers including rally-winners Kris Meeke, Hayden Paddon, Andreas Mikkelsen and more are left without a drive for the 2020 season. There has been speculation arising that Hyundai or Toyota are spitballing a potential B-Team comprising of some of these drivers.
Rally Monte-Carlo starts on the twenty-third of January and will last the weekend, kicking off the thirteen-round World Rally Championship.
Here are the official line-ups for the 2020 World Rally Championship Season:
M-SPORT: Teemu Suninen (Finland), Esapekka Lappi (Finland), Gus Greensmith (UK)
HYUNDAI: Ott Tänak (Finland), Thierry Neuville (Belgium), Dani Sordo (Spain)/Sebastien Loeb (France)
TOYOTA: Sebastien Ogier (France), Elfyn Evans (UK), Kalle Rovanperä (Finland)
So what do you think? Did M-Sport make the right call to bring in Lappi and Greensmith? Will they struggle without a formidable and experienced driver? And overall for the 2020 season, who do you think will win? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.