The first forestry stage is familiar for many and the route is unchanged from 2012. It starts on a narrow, twisty section through woodland, then opens out near the midpoint and gets faster. It flicks back and forth between open and twisty all the way. The surface is a tricky, inconsistent mix of packed snow and gravel.
How the action unfolded:
Volkswagen Motorsport made the best possible start as Sebastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala set the pace in their Polo R cars to claim first and second on the leaderboard. However, two of the expected frontrunners hit immediate trouble.
Mikko Hirvonen went off early in the stage and with no spectators present, the Finn could not get his Citroen DS3 back on the road. It took almost 25 minutes to get on the move, his hopes of a strong result already over.
Mads Ostberg arrived at the finish fifth fastest, but the Norwegian was far from happy. “I have engine problems. Really bad. Massive overheating and no power,” he said, his Fiesta RS leaving anti-freeze on the road as he left the stop line.
He and co-driver Jonas Andersson stopped 700 metres down the road and identified the problem with advice over the telephone from Qatar M-Sport engineers. They taped up what is believed to be a split pipe and topped up the engine’s coolant system before heading to the next stage.
Temperatures were a relatively mild -7C, but snow since the recce ensured conditions were tricky. Grip improved with the passage of every driver as cars swept the snow clear to leave a faster line.
Ogier was 2.2sec quicker than his team-mate, the Frenchman explaining: “I saw Mikko off the road and lost concentration. I was too careful afterwards but conditions weren’t easy.”
Latvala admitted it was hard to find a rhythm in the fresh snow, but the Finn was 1.3sec faster than overnight leader Sebastien Loeb, who concurred. “It would have been very easy to slide into a ditch,” said Loeb, just 1.0sec behind Ogier overall.
Young Swede Pontus Tidemand was fourth in a Fiesta RS, reaching the finish with a huge smile on his face. “That was great. It was really loose so I dropped a little time with too much sliding but I think everyone is doing that, so it’s OK,” he said.
Matthew Wilson and Khalid Al Qassimi went off at the same bend 3km before the finish. “People had been wide at a left corner and there was no snow bank and we were sucked into the snow. We were almost back on the road but then Khalid went off. He was parked behind us and the spectators were split between trying to get us both out,” said Wilson.
Wilson lost more than four minutes while Al Qassimi dropped over seven minutes.
Jari Ketomaa struggled with a power steering problem on his Fiesta RS, while Michal Kosciuszko finished with a leaking cylinder in the clutch of his MINI John Cooper Works, leaving a trail of oil at the stop line.
Pacesetter in the WRC 2 category was Fiesta RRC driver Eyvind Brynildsen. The Norwegian fought back after collecting a 1min 40sec penalty last night. He was 22.9sec quicker than leader Yazeed Al Rajhi, with Sepp Wiegand 11.4sec further back in third. Brynildsen remains a long way down the WRC 2 order, but narrowed the gap to the leader 1m 19.2s.