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KPA Unicon and rally driver Esapekka Lappi deepen their cooperation
What do KPA Unicon Oy and rally driver Esapekka Lappi have in common? A lot. Things in common include city of Pieksämäki, their growth stories and 15 years of shared history. On this basis, Lappi will grab the wheel of his new “tool” at the Monte Carlo opening race of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season. KPA Unicon is the main sponsor of Lappi for 2020.
“Without the support of KPA Unicon then and currently, I might not be sitting here now,” Lappi states.
Let’s go 15 years back in time. In 2005, Lappi drove karting, competing in the local series and later in the Finnish Championships and dreaming of a career in the highest class of track racing, Formula 1. KPA Unicon, for its part, was a family business of 25 people, operating mainly in the domestic and Russian markets.
Now, in 2020, the rider from Pieksämäki, who grew up on karting tracks, is a 29-year-old rally driver driving his third full season at the World Rally Championship series. At the same time, KPA Unicon has grown into a organization of 250 people that thrives in the global markets. What is the secret behind these growth stories?
“Our company philosophy is perseverance. We understand that growth takes time. It has been nice to follow Esapekka’s growth path, and what we have accomplished over the past 15 years is important to us. We have been with him and supported him during difficult times, even when the direction was not clear. Long-term cooperation is a value in itself,” says Jukka-Pekka Kovanen, CEO of KPA Unicon.
New year, new tricks
At the start of the season, Lappi jumps into M-Sport overalls and drives a Ford Fiesta. A man familiar to him, Janne Ferm, continues as the co-driver. Lappi and Ferm have been driving together for 10 years. They praised the new team and the car after their first test runs.
“I´ve got positive vibes. M-Sport is a private, family-owned business – just like KPA Unicon. The team responds to things more quickly and flexibly than in bigger teams, and everyone is within easy reach. The crew is qualified,” Lappi says, and continues on to say, “We tested our car in France for the Rallye Monte Carlo. The car was very logical, overall easy to drive. The basic adjustments were in place, so there was no need to make changes. Of course, after the first race we’ll understand better, but the overall feeling is good.”
At M-Sport, Lappi will have Teemu Suninen as a teammate. Lappi and Suninen have already raced together on karting tracks. Now, this is where they will come full circle, as they compete against each other on rally roads instead of racetracks.
“If somebody had said 15 years ago that we‘d be driving rally at the World Championship series in the same team, I’d have said yeah, right,” Lappi says with a laugh.
Photo: Milla Piirainen
Aiming for a steady season
Lappi’s previous season in Citroen’s team was volatile for various reasons. At M-Sport, he is primarily looking for steadiness in his driving. His motivation to show his skills is intense.
“Hopefully we can also generate some surprises, maybe get to the podium a few times. We’ll start to lay the foundation for next year. Margins at this level are small, and of course I would like to get to the highest podium by the end of the year. Steadiness is one element that we need to master.”
When asked about his career highlights so far, Lappi mentions the Finnish Championship in karting in 2007 and winning Neste Rally Finland in 2017. Neste Rally Finland is also Lappi’s favorite rally to drive. Ferm, on the other hand, is especially looking forward to Rally New Zealand at the start of the season.
“Neste Rally Finland is the fastest rally in the championship, and it has a lot of jumps. The jumps are cool when you can control the car and the car flies. It feels good and I get a kick out of it. Of course, it’s also great to be able to succeed.”
“Neste Rally is always surprising for the co-driver when you never know from which hummock and how the car will fly, and the downfall can also come as a surprise. For some reason, New Zealand tempts me – it can be a nice boost with this new car. Each rally has its own special features and something interesting, as well as challenges,” Ferm says.
In rally, everyone wants to succeed and win, but according to Lappi, the biggest competitor can be found in the mirror. On the other hand, on racetracks, the biggest competitor is another driver.
“While many things are rougher in rally, the higher the level, the more details begin to matter. Just like on racetracks, even a few millimeters in adjustments can make a huge impact. In rally, I like racing against the clock. Other drivers rarely ruin your race. Success depends on you yourself.”
Heading to new markets through rally
The World Rally Championship series will be raced in significant market areas for KPA Unicon. For KPA Unicon, it is important that these two racers representing them globally share the same value system as the company.
“This duo is able to say things – about our country, our culture and our know-how – relatively easily and bring out the positives. We want to make clean energy and our slogan, Energy for good, renowned worldwide. For instance, in New Zealand, Finland is not yet well known, but when we go there together, people will make the connection that there are good drivers in Finland, and they create the image of us as a supplier,” says Kovanen.
In the World Rally Championship series, new rules will come into force in 2022. Due to a rule change, the series will be driven by hybrid cars. In special stages, cars will still be powered by combustion engines, but in the future, the transport stages will be driven partly using electricity. KPA Unicon wants to support this change.
“This year we have a lot of things in common related to clean energy. Just like our customers: together we consider how to replace oil and harness energy to produce good,”says Kovanen.
The first race of the 2020 season in the World Rally Championship series will take place in Monte Carlo from 23 to 26 January. Esapekka Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm from M-Sport will drive with the number 4.
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