Sweden, Saturday: Tänak takes control
Huge scrap for podium places
SS9-10: Tänak regains lead
Ott Tänak moved back into the lead of Rally Sweden on Saturday morning as a mistake from overnight leader Teemu Suninen sent him plunging down the leaderboard.
Tänak regained top spot with second fastest time in the opening Rämmen speed test. His advantage became much more comfortable when Suninen conceded almost 90sec and all hopes of a maiden WRC victory less than 1km from the end of the following Hagfors stage.
The Ford Fiesta driver was too fast into a right corner and slid wide on the next left bend. “The snow sucked us into a snowbank and we got stuck and lost time. Too much speed and quite a lot of loose snow,” explained the disappointed Finn, who dropped to eighth.
Tänak, who was also second quickest through Hagfors, emerged with a 34.2sec lead in his Toyota Yaris. “We had a clean run in both stages. The first one was new so it would have been stupid to take any risks there. I’m in a good rhythm at the moment,” he said.
A cautious Andreas Mikkelsen climbed to second in his Hyundai i20. The Norwegian was seventh in both tests and was almost 15sec clear of Elfyn Evans’ Fiesta.
The battle for fourth raged between Esapekka Lappi, Thierry Neuville and Kris Meeke. Lappi was the man in control after Hagfors, despite admitting he was not brave enough at the wheel of his Citroën C3 in the high-speed sections.
He had 4.3sec in hand over Thierry Neuville, who struggled with his i20’s handling, with Meeke a further 1.7sec back. Sébastien Loeb slipped away from the scrap in seventh, the Frenchman complaining his pace notes were too slow for the fast and icy Swedish forest roads.
Jari-Matti Latvala and Sébastien Ogier, both restarting today after retiring yesterday, claimed a stage win each.
SS11: Tänak torment for Teemu
Ott Tänak held a comfortable half-minute lead at Rally Sweden after an absorbing Saturday morning at this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
After regaining top spot from overnight leader Teemu Suninen and then watching his advantage widen when the Finn made a mistake, Tänak completed the loop of three stages with a 33.8sec lead in his Toyota Yaris.
He took no risks on the snow and ice-covered roads of the morning’s final Vargåsen test with ninth fastest time. “It’s been a good morning. The first two stages we were going at a good pace, the last one was a bit more steady, but still a good rhythm,” said the relaxed Estonian.
Andreas Mikkelsen was second but the Norwegian was not totally happy with the morning and contemplating changes to his Hyundai i20. “It’s good fun but I would like to go faster, the top speed is not there. Maybe we can do some changes back in service,” he explained.
The battle for the final podium place intensified with every stage. Elfyn Evans struggled for speed in his Ford Fiesta and his grip on third became increasingly tenuous. He returned to the Torsby service park with just 1.1sec in hand over a hard-charging Thierry Neuville.
The Belgian climbed from an overnight seventh and second fastest through Vargåsen in his i20 relegated Esapekka Lappi by 1.0sec. Lappi felt he was driving well in his Citroën C3 but was frustrated that the pace was lacking.
Kris Meeke completed the quartet in sixth, a further 6.0sec back in his Yaris and 16.3sec ahead of Sébastien Loeb, who was another frustrated by his speed.
“The pace notes were slow and me too. In the end, not a good morning. We wrote the notes when there was fresh snow on the ground and I need to get used to how these cars with more aero behave in the high-speed corners,” said the Frenchman.
A disappointed Suninen was closing on Loeb in eighth after his unscheduled trip into a snowbank, with Pontus Tidemand and WRC 2 leader Ole Christian Veiby completing the leaderboard.
Quickest through Vargåsen was Sébastien Ogier, the Frenchman restarting after yesterday’s retirement and enjoying the perfect snow and ice conditions in the forests which suited the early starters. It was his second consecutive fastest time.
SS12-13: Podium fight intensifies
Ott Tänak’s Rally Sweden lead approached the minute mark on Saturday afternoon but the fight for the remaining podium places became ever tighter.
Tänak won the second passes through Rämmen and Hagfors in his Toyota Yaris to stretch his advantage to 51.7sec, but less than 18sec blanketed the following quartet as they continued to trade places.
“Conditions in Rämmen were like driving on a railway, with so much grip. The next one was a lot harder but we kept steady and in the lines,” he said.
Andreas Mikkelsen retained second, but his advantage was less than comfortable after an unplanned visit into the Hagfors snow. “I lost the grip and ended in a snowbank. We were lucky to get out,” explained the Norwegian, who dropped almost 10sec in his Hyundai i20.
The excursion left him 7.0sec clear of an inspired Esapekka Lappi (pictured), who demoted both Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville in Rämmen. Rising temperatures meant the roads were slushier then this morning’s pass and Lappi admitted driving was a bigger challenge.
“To be on the pace and to be off completely is a much thinner line than in the first pass. Lose the car in the slush and you can lose the whole race,” said the Citroen C3 pilot.
Neuville was fourth, a further 3.2sec behind in his i20. The Belgian had a wary eye on today’s remaining stages, managing his tyres in the knowledge the afternoon loop is longer than this morning.
Elfyn Evans was fourth in Rämmen but lost crucial seconds in Hagfors with a ‘mountain of oversteer’. The Welshman dropped from third at service to fifth, 7.5sec behind Neuville.
Kris Meeke’s bid to stay in the podium scrap faded and the Yaris driver was more than 20sec further adrift.
Teemu Suninen’s recovery from this morning’s error continued to gain momentum and the Finn moved ahead of Sébastien Loeb into seventh - only to fall behind again in Hagfors.
After SS16: Tänak takes control
Ott Tänak held a commanding lead of almost a minute at Rally Sweden on Saturday night as Teemu Suninen’s hopes of a maiden FIA World Rally Championship victory were dashed.
Tänak starts Sunday’s short final leg with a 54.5sec advantage in his Toyota Yaris, ahead of a huge battle behind for the remaining podium slots.
That fight does not include Suninen, who led a WRC round for the first time overnight. He plunged down the order after burying his Ford Fiesta in a snowbank this morning, before later retiring after crashing into a tree and damaging his car’s safety roll cage.
Tänak trailed Suninen by 2.0sec last night. He demoted the Finn in the opening speed test and Suninen’s error in the next special stage handed the Estonian a lead of more than half a minute. Three afternoon stage victories lifted the margin to a comfortable level.
“Yesterday we had a tough job to do to be in this position and today we got through without any issues. This afternoon the grip changed at every corner and you never knew what to expect. Hopefully we can control things a bit tomorrow, but it’s never an easy ride,” he said.
Andreas Mikkelsen headed a monster four-driver scrap for second for most of the day in his Hyundai i20. The quartet traded places in every stage but, despite a spin, the Norwegian repelled his pursuers until the final test when Esapekka Lappi moved level on time.
Lappi made good progress throughout the day in a Citroën C3. He had 2.3sec in hand over a charging Thierry Neuville, who was fortunate to escape a massive 360° spin in the Vargåsen stage with the loss of only a handful of seconds.
Fifth was Elfyn Evans, the Welshman sliding out of the top three as he struggled for speed in his oversteering Ford Fiesta. He stayed firmly in the fight though, 11.9sec behind Neuville.
The forest road stages around Hagfors were in perfect condition this morning. A solid ice base ensured great grip, but as temperatures rose the roads became softer and slushier, and the later starters benefited after the dirt was cleared by those ahead.
Kris Meeke was unable to keep in touch with those in front in his Yaris. The Briton fell into the clutches of Sébastien Loeb and ended just 1.6sec ahead. Loeb recovered time as the day progressed after his pace notes proved too slow for the morning’s fast roads.
Pontus Tidemand, WRC 2 leader Ole Christian Veiby and Jari Huttunen completed the leaderboard.
Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala restarted after retiring yesterday. Both were well down the classification but Ogier won three stages in his C3 and Latvala one in his Yaris, before he lost more time after spinning into the snow and getting stuck.
Sunday’s finale features just three stages covering 51.31km. A double pass through the Likenäs test is followed by the live TV Wolf Power Stage at Torsby, with bonus points for the fastest five drivers.
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