Saudi Arabian Yazeed Al Rajhi holds a 34.1sec lead in the WRC 2 class of Rally Sweden after a close battle with Finnish rival Jari Ketomaa throughout Thursday’s competition.
Al Rajhi, who drives a Ford Fiesta RRC, was a surprise WRC2 winner in Sweden in 2013, and is on course to do that again having set fastest time on four of the seven stages so far.
One week after he triumphed in a desert cross-country rally in Jeddah, Al Rajhi adapted well to the icy stages around Hagfors.
Placed sixth after Wednesday’s Super Special in Karlstad, he went fastest on today’s opener in Torsby, and traded stage wins with early leader Ketomaa until toppling him on SS4.
Two more stage wins helped consolidate the lead, and even a scare on the final test didn’t shake his confidence. “I went off the road at a right-hand corner and hit a stick, then later on, near the finish, I went off again and got stuck in the snow for 10 seconds,” Al-Rajhi explained. “But I got out. I am lucky today! I am leading now and so far everything is under control.”
Ketomaa began as one of the favourites to do well but struggled to find a comfortable feeling with his DMACK-shod Fiesta R5 - especially in the repeated stages. Like Al-Rajhi, the Finn also had a stressful ride through the final stage.
“The power-steering broke 1km from the start, then I had a huge moment on a corner because I thought the steering arm was broken,” he explained. “We went completely off the road and then back up and on again. We are so lucky to be here!”
WRC 2 championship leader Yurii Protasov is third, 8.9sec behind Ketomaa. The Ukrainian had a battle on his hands after crashing into a tree on stage two and breaking his windscreen. A persistent gear change issue hampered his performance later, but he overcame this to set a string of top-three times.
Subaru Impreza driver Anders Grondal is fourth, and the leading Group competitor, just 3.2sec behind Protasov. The Norwegian was fastest on Wednesday’s Super Special but an intermittent engine misfire threatened to bring his rally to a halt after SS4. Things improved and he rounded off the day with fastest time on SS7.
Lorenzo Bertelli is fifth, 1min.02.8sec off the lead, with Fredrik Ahlin 14.0sec further back in seventh. Karl Kruuda is eighth, more than a minute further back. He was third until the penultimate stage when transmission issues, which left his Fiesta S2000 in two-wheel drive only, combined with a spin cost 90sec.