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WRC - Sweden, SS3-4: Neuville leads as road openers suffer

A lot of snow on the road this morning

16 February 2018 - 12h25, by www.wrc.com 

Fastest time in Norway’s Svullrya special stage and second in the following Röjden test propelled Neuville into a 3.7sec lead over his Hyundai i20 colleague as competitors returned to Torsby for service.

Despite suffering with a cold, Neuville took advantage of better conditions created by the early starters, who lost time after ploughing heavy snow.

“The road is getting better and better with each car and I tried to use my advantage,” explained the Belgian. “With our road position we knew we could be faster than the guys ahead, but we didn’t expect to be faster than the guys behind.”

Mikkelsen, who swapped seats with co-driver Anders Jaeger back to service to review onboard camera footage of the loop, took no risks and was 1.6sec ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Esapekka Lappi.

Finn Lappi was second in Svullrya and fourth in Röjden after a cautious start earlier. He was one of several drivers to hit a rogue Röjden rock and was lucky to escape any damage.

Top five times in both tests helped Mads Østberg into fourth on his Citroën C3 debut. He was just 2.1sec behind Lappi and still acclimatising to his car. “There are still places for improvement and I’m just trying to learn with every metre,” he said.

Craig Breen and Jari-Matti Latvala rounded off the top six, 2017 winner Latvala happier with his performance over the final two tests after struggling for confidence in the loose snow earlier.

Ott Tänak was Neuville’s closest challenger after Svullrya but a disastrous Röjden run dropped him to seventh, 19.4sec off the lead. The Estonian was furious about the thick snow left in the final 6km by the snow plough and dropped almost 20sec from second in the start order.

Hayden Paddon was eighth, the Kiwi struggling to turn into corners with understeer in his i20, ahead of Teemu Suninen’s Ford Fiesta and Kris Meeke’s C3.

Meeke and Elfyn Evans hit the same rock as Lappi. Meeke slowed for a couple of kilometres, fearing a puncture after the ‘massive impact’ but his rubber stayed inflated. Evans wasn’t as lucky and dropped 30sec with a flat rear right tyre.

The pair sandwiched championship leader Sébastien Ogier. As road opener, he endured the worst of the conditions and was 47.7sec off Neuville’s pace. A start line stall in Svullrya didn’t help the Frenchman’s mood.

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