Lappi Forced Out of Safari Rally by Gearbox Explosion

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Gearbox explosion caused Lappi’s Safari Rally exit

The victor of Rally Sweden found himself relinquishing his second-place standing as his i20 N came to a standstill during stage five due to a transmission glitch.

Expressing frustration, the Finnish driver, without any prior warning, conceded defeat to the malfunction. This setback follows a series of four propshaft failures endured during last year’s Kenya leg, prompting the team to install a sturdier version of the component for the 2024 edition.

“The gearbox exploded,” lamented Lappi. “Initially, it began shifting to front-wheel drive, and then, after one acceleration, there was either no impact or a significant noise – it just reverted to front-wheel drive. A few hundred meters later, the car lacked any traction, regardless of gear.”

“At that juncture, there wasn’t any immediate impact, but undoubtedly, there were impacts during the stages. Everyone faced the same conditions, so there’s no apparent cause for this issue. It’s incredibly frustrating.”

Lappi (Credits: Autosport)

“We could swap the gearbox and resume, but I’m unsure of the point in attempting tomorrow’s stages.”

“I have some thoughts on what I’d prefer to do [tomorrow], which I’ve already shared with the team. Let’s see if they concur or not. I’d prefer to tackle only the morning.”

Hyundai’s technical director, Francois-Xavier Demaison, acknowledged the gearbox’s vulnerability, deeming it a persistent challenge to find a lasting solution.

“The gearbox is indeed broken, and we’re aware it’s a weak spot in the car. Unfortunately, it’s a reality we must contend with,” remarked Demaison.

“We held out hope of resolving this issue, but it appears to pose a significant challenge for the future. Esapekka’s retirement underscores a reliability concern, and while we’re dissatisfied, the constraints of the current homologation joker rules make it challenging to rectify. We’ll do what we can.”

Lappi’s departure elevated teammate Ott Tanak to second place momentarily, until the Estonian’s untimely crash on stage six. Striking a concealed rock in the road, Tanak’s vehicle careened into a bank, inflicting irreparable steering damage to the i20 N.

Lappi (Credits: Autosport)

“Encounters with rocks are quite common at the Safari Rally. This particular rock was obscured, and I couldn’t react in time due to the narrow road with banks on either side,” recounted Tanak.

“I had no alternative but to collide with the rock, which proved too substantial, leading us off the road. While the rock itself may not have caused significant damage, the impact with the bank resulted in extensive damage.”

Tanak’s exit left Thierry Neuville as the lone remaining Hyundai contender. Despite enduring a puncture, the Belgian driver managed to secure fourth place by the end of Friday, trailing rally leader Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera by 1 minute and 7.3 seconds.

Upon learning of Lappi’s gearbox woes, Neuville expressed apprehension regarding the transmission issue faced by his teammate.

“We’ll continue to fight. It’s disheartening to witness two of my teammates retire, marking another challenging day for Hyundai here in Kenya,” remarked Neuville.

“Lappi’s troubles leave me somewhat uneasy. It’s difficult to be entirely confident and push to the limit in rough terrains, fearing similar issues.”

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