Finnskogen: A familiar test, but with 6m of new roads. It has been likened to a Rally Finland stage, with fast, flowing, wide roads and some high-speed corners until the final 5km when the route becomes more technical and tricky.
Kirkener: This is almost identical to the 2012 edition, but runs for an extra 60 metres. It is an artificially made track that runs alongside a river and a small wooded area – designed primarily to entertain the fans. It contains a mix of wide sweeping corners and narrow bumpy sections in the woods.
How the action unfolded:
Sebastien Loeb’s determined charge for victory continued on SS18 and SS19 but the Frenchman wasn’t able to worry ice-cool Ogier who takes a 20.7sec rally lead to the final three stages.
Loeb was fastest on both tests in his Citroen DS3, but Ogier shrugged off the pressure from his former team-mate, conceding a few seconds to remain firmly in control of the rally.
“It’s not the time to take the maximum risks,’ Ogier said after SS18. “He is pushing hard but we can afford to lose a few seconds. It’s going to plan perfectly.”
Ogier remained confident despite giving away another couple of seconds on the short Kirkener test when he clipped a snow bank with his Polo R.
With 43 stage kilometres still to go, Loeb has not given up his fight for a second Rally Sweden victory. “I tried to push and on the first stage it was okay but it was difficult to make much of a difference. This one (SS19) was a really good drive, no mistakes. Is the fight still on? We’ll see.”
Almost a minute behind the dueling Sebastiens, the thrilling battle for third raged on between Fiesta RS driver Mads Ostberg and the man just behind him, Jari-Matti Latvala in a Polo R. Ostberg was the quicker driver on SS18, with Latvala ahead on SS19. Neither driver was finding it easy, however.
“We didn’t have a good start to SS18 but we managed to get back most of the time by the end,” said Ostberg. “I’m not on the limit but I’m not 100 per cent confident. Not a lot happened on the second one but I’m struggling with understeer on the narrow stuff. It’s not easy.”
Trailing Ostberg by exactly five seconds after SS19, Latvala revealed that he had switched to a completely different car set-up for today’s stages.
“I felt more confident in Finskogen but I have realised that I need to change my driving style if I’m to win here,” he explained. “My old style is not precise enough. Now I am using the same car set-up as Ogier. It feels a little bit soft but I have to get used to it.
"Okay, the battle with Mads is still on but on the short stage I lost a couple of seconds in a snow bank so maybe I’ve lost a little too much time now."
Ford Fiesta RS driver Evgeny Novikov is fifth, 48.4sec behind Latvala, with Thierry Neuville sixth, 2m01s further back.
In the WRC 2 category daylight is appearing between Yazeed Al Rajhi and Anders Grondal.
After taking the lead in this morning’s opening stage, Al Rajhi extended it through both Finnskogen and Kirkener. He was 4.8sec faster in the former in his Ford Fiesta RRC and a crushing 12.3sec quicker in Kirkener to move 19.8sec clear.
However, Al Rajhi breathed a sigh of relief at the end of Kirkener. “I made a mistake and was lucky. I’m driving at my level and using all my experience to fight with people who know these stages very well,” he said.
Grondal admitted his chances of victory were fading. “It’s starting to look difficult. I’m only losing a few tenths a kilometre so I’ll keep the pressure on. He won’t have a cruise,” said the Subaru Impreza pilot.
Germany’s Sepp Wiegand remains a distant third in a Skoda Fabia S2000, with Yuriy Protasov fourth in another Impreza.