Rallying-Lappi wins in Sweden for back-to-back Hyundai success

Rallying - World Rally Championship - Rally Sweden - Umea, Sweden - February 17, 2024 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team's Esapekka Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm in action Peo Moller/TT News Agency via REUTERS

(Reuters) -Finnish driver Esapekka Lappi won Rally Sweden on Sunday for Hyundai's second success in two rounds this season and his first since 2017.

The South Korean manufacturer team won the opening Monte Carlo Rally with Thierry Neuville, who was fourth on Sunday, and are now tied with Toyota at the top of the standings.

Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm, competing in their first rally of a part-time season, finished 29.6 seconds clear of Toyota's Elfyn Evans with M-Sport Ford's Adrien Fourmaux on the podium for the first time.

Frenchman Fourmaux had been second until he hit a snowbank on Sunday morning.

Briton Evans took seven points for leading the Sunday classification under a new scoring system, while Toyota's double world champion Kalle Rovanpera, another part-timer this year, took five bonus points from the final stage.

The win in the snow and ice was the second of Lappi's world championship career and first since his home Rally Finland six-and-a-half years ago.

He also took the record for the longest gap between world championship wins from Kenyan Shekhar Mehta and Frenchman Jean-Luc Therier.

"It has been a brilliant rally -- it could have been more entertaining with fewer retirements, but the snowbanks can be your friend or your enemy. This week they were my friend," said Lappi.

Neuville, whose rally was compromised by having to open the road in tricky conditions on Friday, stayed ahead in the drivers' championship with 48 points to Evans's 45 and Fourmaux on 29.

"Two victories in three weeks is great motivation for us; we only had two wins in the 2023 season," said Belgian Neuville.

The next round is Safari Rally Kenya on March 28-31, the first gravel event of the year.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ken Ferris and Clare Fallon)

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