Ogier on top after dramatic Sweden opener
Latvala, Meeke and Neuville hit troubles
Sébastien Ogier led Rally Sweden after a dramatic opening leg on Friday which ended the hopes of several fancied drivers.
Ogier himself survived two incidents to lead this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship by 26.9sec in a Volkswagen Polo R. Hayden Paddon enjoyed a superb debut in Hyundai’s i20 to hold second ahead of Mads Østberg’s Ford Fiesta RS.
The Frenchman won all three morning stages near the border between Sweden and Norway to build a 24.2sec cushion. But heavy afternoon snow left him at a disadvantage as road opener, creating a clean line for the benefit of later starters.
An afternoon overshoot cost a few seconds but Ogier was fortunate to escape a more serious incident this morning when he hit a tree and bent a steering arm, which he and co-driver Julien Ingrassia replaced.
"There was a big, big water splash which I didn’t have in my pace notes," he said. "The organisers warned us about a bump but I couldn’t turn after it and went into the trees. I got a bit lucky. I had to push hard in the snow because I knew I would lose time."
Paddon quickly acclimatised to the 2016-specification i20 and won the final two stages to rocket up from sixth. The Kiwi admitted conditions favoured him courtesy of a low start position and he could benefit again tomorrow when more snow is forecast.
Østberg made a cautious start but progressed from eighth and revelled in the wintry afternoon conditions after changing both his car set-up and driving style.
Estonia’s Ott Tänak was 1.1sec behind in fourth in another Fiesta RS, 3.4sec ahead of Dani Sordo. The Spaniard felt his i20 was moving around too much but he briefly held third before slipping behind Østberg and Tänak.
Andreas Mikkelsen completed the top six in another Polo R, concluding a quartet of drivers covered by less than nine seconds. The Norwegian was Ogier’s closest challenger in second until he hit a tree stump and spun, losing 20sec.
Henning Solberg overcame gearshift issues and a final stage scare when the engine stopped in his Fiesta RS to hold seventh. He was 1.9sec ahead of Craig Breen who set a top three time in Citroën’s DS 3. Eric Camilli and Lorenzo Bertelli completed the leaderboard.
Kris Meeke had just claimed second when the Briton hit a stone buried in the road and the impact sent his DS 3 into retirement. Thierry Neuville limped through much of the day in two-wheel drive after breaking his i20’s rear differential and a broken front left driveshaft put Latvala in a similar predicament. His Polo R eventually stopped in the final stage.
Saturday’s second leg features five stages covering 92.25km. It includes two passes over the spectacular Colin’s Crest jump in Vargåsen and ends with a head-to-head test at Karlstad trotting track.
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