This is the longest stage of the rally and starts in Sweden before crossing the border to finish in Norway, passing Petter Solberg’s house en route. Fast and flowing, the roads are mid to wide and in good condition, with plenty of snow and some small, but weak, snowbanks.
How the action unfolded:
If Sebastien Loeb was going to attack Sebastien Ogier anywhere it was going to be on this long opening test. And so it proved.
Second-placed Loeb went flat out and although he was fastest in his Citroen DS3, he only clawed back 3.3sec on Ogier. The gap between the two at the head of the leaderboard is now 23.6sec.
“I went really hard on this one. All I can do is try to push him to the limit so I will try,” said Loeb, the sweat pouring from his brow indicating how hard he tried.
Ogier was cool, calm and collected as he analysed the times, the Volkswagen Polo R driver saying: “It’s perfect. I’m really happy. I thought I could lose seven or eight seconds on this stage so it’s OK. I had to push because Loeb is flying now.”
Mind games from the rally leader, perhaps?
The battle for third between Mads Ostberg and Jari-Matti Latvala continued unabated, but their pace was far removed from the leading duo. Latvala was third fastest in his Polo R, 0.2sec ahead of Ostberg’s Ford Fiesta RS but a distant 14.9sec behind Loeb.
Ostberg was 3.0sec behind the Finn at the opening split after only 1.98km and did well to regain most of the time. “The start was bad, I could not find a rhythm,” he said. “I was struggling so much but when we passed the border, everything was better.
Asked if he could stay ahead of Latvala in the standings, the 25-year-old Norwegian simply replied: “No – not when I drive this bad.”
Latvala was happier after being so frustrated yesterday. “Much better driving than yesterday. It looked OK on the splits but I lost a bit towards the end. The feeling is better, the car is better, and I just need to avoid those mistakes.”
His instructions from Volkswagen boss Jost Capito were clear: “If I have a good feeling then challenge Mads, but if I don’t then just get to the finish,” said Latvala.
Evgeny Novikov was fifth fastest ahead of Henning Solberg. However, Solberg started the stage 27 minutes late after alternator problems on the road section and the time penalty is likely to drop him from eighth to tenth.
Jari Ketomaa did not restart his Ford Fiesta RS as co-driver Kaj Lindstrom is unwell. Khalid Al Qassimi was another non-starter. The engine of his Citroen DS3 was too badly damaged after he hit a log pile and broke the radiator yesterday afternoon.
After closing on the WRC 2 lead throughout Saturday’s competition, Fiesta RRC driver Yazeed Al Rajhi finally took the position after a stage win. Long-time leader Anders Grondal dropped 2.7sec behind the Saudi driver after spinning his Subaru Impreza.
A cautious drive from Sepp Wiegand kept the German secure in third, 3m25.7s behind Grondal.