Sweden, Friday: Suninen shines bright
Finn leads WRC fixture for first time
SS2: Tänak charges into lead
Ott Tänak stormed into the lead of Rally Sweden on Friday morning after a convincing victory in the opening forest road speed test across the border in Norway.
The Estonian, fourth in last night’s opening show stage, blasted through the 21.26km Hof-Finnskog in his Toyota Yaris to win the test by 3.8sec from Teemu Suninen and grab a 3.0sec advantage at the top of the leaderboard.
“Quite good grip and just a few slushy places. Overall the conditions are quite fair at the moment, all good,” said Tänak.
Suninen’s pace came as a surprise. Despite hailing from Finland, the Ford Fiesta driver lacks experience of snow and ice. “The grip was amazing but I couldn’t use the car as I wanted. We can go much faster. It wasn’t easy and I needed to work quite hard,” he said.
Sébastien Ogier was Tänak’s closest challenger in the overall standings. The Citroën C3 driver was fourth fastest to hold a 0.8sec advantage over Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20. Jari-Matti Latvala was fourth after posting third fastest time in his Yaris.
It was a bad opening for several frontrunners. Elfyn Evans, Marcus Grönholm and Janne Tuohino all spun into snowbanks, while Pontus Tidemand lost time when the windscreen wipers jammed across his Fiesta’s windscreen.
SS3/4: Tänak in charge in Sweden
Ott Tänak won two of Friday morning’s three winter road speed tests at Rally Sweden to lead the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship in a Toyota Yaris.
He made the most of perfect snow and ice-covered roads across the border in Norway to follow fastest time in the opening Hof-Finnskog special stage with another in the 18.10km Röjden to lead by 5.5sec.
“Conditions are really good so I have to take the best out of it. Some of the nicest Sweden conditions for now but I expect the second loop will be completely different. Let’s see what we can do,” said the Estonian.
Leading the pursuit was Teemu Suninen, the Finn fastest in the middle Svullrya test in a Ford Fiesta. “I have a good feeling - which can be dangerous!” he joked. “I just need to continue like this and avoid mistakes.”
He had a tenth of a second in hand over Jari-Matti Latvala’s Yaris. Latvala, making a record 197th WRC start, was driving too aggressively in places but there were no errors from the Finn.
Despite temperatures hovering a couple of degrees above freezing, the forest roads had a strong ice base. With little fresh snow on the surface, the early starters were not handicapped by ploughing a clean line.
Second in the start order Thierry Neuville and road opener Sébastien Ogier took advantage of the clean conditions to hold fourth and fifth. Neuville trailed Latvala by 0.4sec with Ogier a further 8.4sec back in a Citroën C3.
“I wasn’t happy with the settings,” said Hyundai i20 driver Neuville. “It was very, very bumpy and I was jumping around like a kangaroo!”
Esapekka Lappi was sixth in another C3, ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen, who completed Röjden with damage to the front left wing of his i20 after sliding into the snow.
Kris Meeke was eighth, the Briton believing he was not ‘adventurous’ enough in his Yaris. He headed Sébastien Loeb, who lacked confidence in his i20, with Elfyn Evans completing the leaderboard in a Fiesta.
Marcus Grönholm’s day came to a premature end on his first WRC start for nine years. After spinning his Yaris in both Hof-Finnskog and Svullrya, the Finn retired after plunging down a bank in Röjden.
Pontus Tidemand dropped time with a suspected sticking throttle in his Fiesta. Lorenzo Bertelli spun twice, and limped to the end of Röjden with his Fiesta in safety mode after snow blocked the radiator and the engine temperature soared.
SS5: Latvala demotes Tänak
Jari-Matti Latvala snatched the lead of Rally Sweden after relegating Toyota Yaris team-mate Ott Tänak in Friday afternoon’s opening speed test.
The Finn, starting a record 197th WRC event, was second fastest through Hof-Finnskog to climb ahead of both Tänak and fellow countryman Teemu Suninen and lead by 1.8sec.
“There was very high grip in some places and it was slushy in others. That wasn’t maximum attack but I had a clean run,” said Latvala.
Suninen was third fastest in his Ford Fiesta to retain second place as early leader Ott Tänak dropped to third, but only 3.7sec adrift of Latvala.
Conditions were very different from this morning’s opening pass. The strong ice base had given way to a softer surface with plenty of gravel, and the early starters struggled as they ‘cleaned’ the slush from the road to leave a quicker line for those behind.
Road opener Sébastien Ogier dropped almost 30sec to plummet from fifth to seventh in his Citroën C3, while Thierry Neuville fared worse. The Belgian, second in the start order, twice spun his Hyundai i20 to drop from fourth to sixth in the standings.
Andreas Mikkelsen, driving an i20, and Yaris pilot Kris Meeke profited by climbing to fourth and fifth.
Elfyn Evans showed the benefits of a lower start position. The Welshman was fastest in his Ford Fiesta and moved up two places to eighth, aided by a big spin for Esapekka Lappi.
“I got caught by a short right-hander in fifth gear. I hit a bank and almost rolled,” explained the C3 driver.
After SS8: Suninen shines bright
Teemu Suninen led an FIA World Rally Championship round for the first time when he topped the leaderboard at Rally Sweden on Friday night.
The Finn became the fourth leader of an intensely difficult leg, holding onto a slender 2.0sec advantage after a dramatic finale as darkness descended over frozen forest roads near the rally’s Torsby hub.
The 25-year-old negotiated the final 8.93km speed test with his Ford Fiesta’s front light pod flapping across the bonnet and obscuring his vision. With reduced lighting, Suninen swiped several snowbanks but kept cool as Ott Tänak ate into a 13.0sec deficit.
“The feeling is amazing. We’ve done a really good job, particularly in staying away from mistakes. It’s everyone’s target to be fastest but we need to remember there are two days to go in difficult conditions and I must concentrate on my driving,” said Suninen.
Tänak, who led before slipping back, recovered to second when Toyota Yaris team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala buried his car in a snowbank.
It took the Finn almost 25 minutes to dig it out and his hopes of victory at a record-breaking 197th WRC start were over. Latvala, who also topped the standings earlier, had begun the final test only 5.0sec behind Suninen.
Perfect snow and ice-covered roads this morning gave way to slush and gravel when the speed tests, most of which were held across the Norwegian border, were repeated this afternoon. The tricky tracks took their toll on several frontrunners.
Opening round winner Sébastien Ogier retired his Citroën C3 after spinning into the snow and getting stuck, while Thierry Neuville ended seventh after twice spinning his Hyundai i20 and damaging the car’s aerodynamics.
Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen delighted his fans by finishing third, 17.8sec off the lead in an i20. He had almost 11sec in hand over Elfyn Evans, who won two afternoon stages in a Fiesta to offset time lost by a spin.
Esapekka Lappi was fifth, the C3 pilot fortunate to emerge from a high-speed spin without rolling, with Sébastien Loeb climbing to sixth after slowly gaining in confidence.
Kris Meeke fell back to eighth when he stalled his Yaris’ engine at the start of the penultimate test. Pontus Tidemand was ninth after losing time with a throttle pedal sensor problem and WRC 2 leader Ole Christian Veiby completed the top 10.
It was a torrid day for Marcus Grönholm, making a guest appearance nine years after his last WRC outing. The five-time Sweden winner survived two spins before plunging his Yaris into a snowbank and retiring.
Saturday’s leg features classic roads near Hagfors, including a double pass over the famous Colin’s Crest. Two identical loops of three tests are followed by a repeat of Thursday’s show stage in Karlstad and a sprint next to Torsby’s service park. The eight tests cover 126.18km.
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