Saturday | 14 Feb 2015

Neuville vaults into Sweden lead

Thierry Neuville delivered a masterful drive through Saturday’s final speed test to snatch a slender lead at Rally Sweden.

Armed with new spiked snow tyres on the front of his Hyundai i20, he blitzed rivals Andreas Mikkelsen and Sébastien Ogier to turn a 7.3sec deficit into a 1.5sec advantage with one day remaining in this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Daylong leader Mikkelsen held second in a Volkswagen Polo R and team-mate Ogier was just 8.1sec further back in third.

“That was one of the best stages I’ve ever driven,” said Neuville. “I had a big, big push. The new tyres were probably worth three or four seconds and I had a good feeling in the car, it’s so much fun. It’ll be hard tomorrow with three tricky stages, but I’m not going to slow down.”

Neuville was more than 30sec adrift of Mikkelsen after three of today’s eight snow-covered special stages near Hagfors. But the Norwegian, who admitted to feeling the pressure of chasing a maiden WRC win, gave away 20sec after touching a snow bank and spinning.

Conditions favoured Neuville this afternoon as the early starters cleared slush off the driving line, and neither road opener Ogier nor Mikkelsen could hold the Belgian at bay as his clever tyre strategy paid dividends.

Andreas Mikkelsen - mistakes proved costly

After restarting this morning in fourth, Ogier was up to second within two stages, slashing Mikkelsen’s lead to 1.7sec after his team-mate’s mistakes. Slushy roads cost valuable seconds this afternoon but he remained poised to attack in Sunday’s final leg.

Mads Østberg lost third place after slamming Citroen’s DS 3 into a bank in the opening stage and puncturing the left rear tyre. Gearbox problems hindered him all day and he is 53.4sec off the lead in fourth.

Ott Tänak consolidated fifth in a Ford Fiesta RS and Kiwi Hayden Paddon improved the feeling with his Hyundai i20 to stay sixth, more than a minute behind.

Martin Prokop was seventh, despite almost rolling his Fiesta RS after it landed on its nose at a jump. Elfyn Evans held off Kris Meeke in eighth, Meeke grabbing a stage win this afternoon. Yuriy Protasov completed the leaderboard, despite dropping 30sec after going off.

Jari-Matti Latvala’s troubled weekend continued when he dropped 45sec after spinning into the snow and the Finn ended the day in 17th.

Sunday’s final leg covers three stages and 46.74km, with the final live TV Power Stage offering bonus points to the fastest three drivers.

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