Jari-Matti Latvala holds a narrow advantage after a dramatic third day of Rally Sweden in which all three Volkswagen drivers topped the standings.
The Finn is 3.6sec clear of colleague Andreas Mikkelsen with one day remaining in this second round of the WRC. Third is Mads Ostberg, the Citroen DS3 pilot 39.4sec behind his fellow Norwegian.
Most of the drama came during a topsy-turvy morning. A moment’s lack of concentration saw overnight leader Sébastien Ogier bury his Polo R into a snowbank in the opening stage. Four minutes and 30 seconds passed before he emerged and Mikkelsen led.
Two stages later Mikkelsen dropped his car into a ditch at high speed. Although he lost only a handful of seconds, it was enough for Latvala to move ahead. His lead reached 10sec, but his speed wore his tyres and he lost much of his advantage limping through the final two short tests on well-used rubber.
“My tyres were finished and I Iost a lot of time in such a short stage,” said Latvala. “It wasn’t a good feeling but I saved tyres yesterday so I have good rubber for the final day tomorrow. Everything is going in the right direction but I need to be really focused for the final leg.”
Mikkelsen admitted he had mixed thoughts. “We drove quite fast while avoiding all the rocks. We could have gone faster and tried to catch Jari-Matti but then you have to take risks. I have never been on the podium before in my life so it would be a nice experience, but at the same time I want to fight for the win,” he said.
After being tied overnight, Ostberg edged clear of Mikko Hirvonen and is 19.7sec ahead of the Finn’s Ford Fiesta RS.
Hirvonen slipped behind Ott Tank this afternoon after being held up by Robert Kubica, but he regained fourth and is 6.0sec ahead of the Estonian. Tanak had a tough morning with a spin and pace note problems, but enjoyed a better afternoon.
Kris Meeke’s early caution paid dividends as he capitalised on the errors of others to climb to sixth in his DS3. He is followed by Henning Solberg, whose Fiesta RS overhauled the similar car of Sweden’s Pontus Tidemand, also Solberg’s stepson, in the last stage. The duo are split by just 1.4sec.
Ogier, who won four consecutive stages this afternoon as he tries to salvage as many points as possible, climbed to ninth in the last stage. He moved ahead of Elfyn Evans and the gap between the pair is 3.4sec.
It was a bad day for Hyundai. Thierry Neuville retired in the opening stage with broken front right suspension while Juho Hanninen pulled the front right wheel off his car when the test was repeated.
Kubica plunged down the order after losing 20 minutes when he twice went off into the snow.
Snow was an increasingly rare commodity. With temperatures climbing to 3°C and rain falling, the road surface was gravel rather than the usual ice and careful tyre management was essential to preserve the studs.
Tomorrow’s final leg is the longest. Drivers tackle two identical loops of four stages covering 142.16km before the finish in Karlstad.