*Former champions Lappi and Hänninen first and third on world championship counter
*Leading ERC Junior Under 27 contender Huttunen wins WRC2 support category
*ERC event winner Breen impresses for factory Citroën team
FIA European Rally Championship aces past and present proved their talent on the fastest event of them all, Neste Rally Finland, which finished in the city of Jyväskylä on Sunday (30 July).
Esapekka Lappi, ERC champion in 2014, claimed his maiden world championship win on his fourth start for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, while his team-mate and 2012 ERC champion Juho Hänninen, scored his first world championship podium in third place.
There was also a breakthrough triumph for another Finn, Jari Huttunen. A frontrunner in the FIA ERC Junior Under 27 Championship for the ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team, Huttunen claimed a debut victory in the WRC2 category by a dominant margin.
Elsewhere, Craig Breen, the ERC runner-up in 2015 driving for the Peugeot Rally Academy, placed a fine fifth overall in his works Citroën.
While Breen, Hänninen and Lappi will focus on the next world championship counter in Germany in mdi-August, Huttunen is heading to Poland where Rally Rzeszow hosts round five of the ERC and round three of ERC Junior Under 27 from 3-5 August.
After two events, Huttunen is third in the table having finished second in class on Rally Islas Canarias in early May. In fact, the 23-year-old could have been closer to the top of the standings had a mechanical failure not cost him victory on the Azores Airlines Rallye in April with the finish in sight.
“It’s an amazing feeling and I hope one day I'll do as Esapekka has done,” said Huttunen following his victory. “It’s a little bit surprising how well it’s going but I’m happy.”
Lappi, who won on his ERC debut in Poland in 2012, said: “I really imagined that the podium was the best that we were going to get so to win it’s amazing.”
Jean-Baptiste Ley, the ERC Co-ordinator, said: “What Esapekka and Jari have achieved is fantastic and fills everybody connected to the ERC with immense pride so congratulations to them and their co-drivers Janne Ferm and Akki Linnaketo. One of the ERC’s key objectives is to provide a platform to enable promising young drivers to progress from national level and prove their talent on the world stage. Esapekka and Jari have done just that and we’ll watch with interest how Jari can perform on the remaining ERC Junior rounds as he chases the 100,000 euros career progression fund on offer to the champion to use for an ERC Junior Under 28 campaign in 2018.”