Sweeping bends, a spectacular jump and a great atmosphere were the hallmarks of this curtain-raiser at Karlstad’s horse trotting track. Drivers tackled two laps of the ice-covered test in head-to-head duels, the running order of the top pairings selected by fans on the event’s Facebook page.
How the action unfolded:
Sebastien Loeb took top honours after winning the headline heat against fellow Frenchman and former team-mate Sebastien Ogier.
His Citroen DS3 WRC was 2.5sec faster than Ogier, who dropped time after swiping a snowbank in his Volkswagen Polo R WRC.
“It was just a short stage and nothing special to do. Everything went well, but now we have to start with the real stages tomorrow,” said Loeb.
Ogier was slightly perturbed at the stop line. “It wasn’t so good. I’m not sure if I had a puncture on the rear right. Something feels strange on the car,” he said. Ogier is ninth.
Loeb’s win gave him a 0.5sec advantage on the leaderboard over the Ford Fiesta RS WRC of Evgeny Novikov and the Polo R WRC of Jari-Matti Latvala.
Novikov defeated Dani Sordo in their head-to-head duel and said: “We’re here to fight and I feel confident and comfortable.”
Latvala beat former team-mate Mikko Hirvonen, although he admitted his run wasn’t perfect. “No big mistakes, just a couple of times I went wide. I feel relaxed now for tomorrow,” he said.
Hirvonen was equal fourth fastest with Mads Ostberg and Thierry Neuville rounded off the top six.
Ford Fiesta RRC driver Yazeed Al Rajhi is overnight leader of the WRC 2 category, with Subaru Impreza drivers Yuriy Protasov and Anders Grondal second and third. Championship leader Sepp Wiegand made a clean start, setting fifth fastest time in his Skoda Fabia S2000.
But there was an early upset for one of the class favourites, Fiesta RCC driver Eyvind Brynildsen, who started nine minutes late because of an engine problem.
“I parked up before the stage and when the time came to check-in the engine wouldn’t start,” the Norwegian explained. “The M-Sport guys were quick to help and they found something in the wiring that got us going, but I think we have a one and a half minute penalty. Now we really have a big job to do this weekend!”
The rally continues tomorrow when drivers leave Karlstad at 06.10hrs. After service at Hagfors Airport, the opening stage is the 15,00km Lesjofors which starts at 08.39hrs.