Injured Sordo misses Sweden
Hayden Paddon to line up alongside Thierry Neuville for Hyundai
With temperatures climbing to 3°C and rain falling, much of the action took place on thawing gravel tracks, which added tyre preservation to the list of driver concerns. But despite the unseasonably warm conditions, there was still enough of the white stuff around to cause a couple of major upsets.
Ahead of next weeks Rally Sweden [12-15 February], here’s our summary of what happened there last year:
Wednesday 5 and Thursday 6 February
The 2014 rally ran from Wednesday to Saturday, and began with Volkswagen’s Andreas Mikkelsen taking an early lead at the Super Special in Karlstad. When the rally restarted on Thursday, Mikkelsen’s team-mate Sebastien Ogier snatched the lead, and the pair began a see-saw battle that went right through the day. The lead swapped on three occasions, but after the day closing SS7 Ogier held the lead by 5.8sec from Mikkelsen, who eased off in the final stage to preserve his tyres. Jari-Matti Latvala, in the third Polo R, was third but often frustrated at his inability to match the pace of his team-mates. Performance of the day came from Ott Tanak. After more than 12 months away from the WRC, the Estonian returned in style in his Fiesta RS. He won one stage and ended just 2.6sec behind Latvala in fourth. Mads Ostberg struggled for confidence in his maiden outing in a Citroen DS3 on the loose. The Norwegian made some changes ahead of the afternoon stages and his demeanour improved. He tied fifth with Mikko Hirvonen’s Fiesta RS.
Friday 7 February
What little there was of the Swedish snow bit back on Saturday, turning the day one top-three on its head. Most of the drama came during a dramatic morning. A moment’s lack of concentration saw overnight leader 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. The Finn ended just 3.6sec clear of Mikkelsen, with Citroen DS3 pilot Ostberg 39.4sec behind in third. After being tied overnight, Ostberg edged clear of Hirvonen to end the day 19.7sec ahead. Tanak had a tough morning with a spin and pace note problems, but enjoyed a better afternoon to hold fifth. Ogier, who won four consecutive stages as he tried to salvage as many points as possible, climbed to ninth in the last stage. 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. Robert Kubica plunged down the order after losing 20 minutes when he twice went off into the snow.
Saturday 8 February
The final day fight between Mikkelsen and Latvala got off to a cracking start, with Mikkelsen one second up at the mid-point split on the opening stage. But Latvala turned up the gas in the second half to overturn the deficit, and on the second stage Mikkelsen’s challenge evaporated when he buried the front of his Polo R into a snowbank. He lost 25.7sec to his team-mate, handing him an unassailable lead. Latvala duly secured his third Rally Sweden victory to move to the head of the drivers’ standings. The Finn, who claimed his maiden victory in Sweden in 2008, beat Mikkelsen by 53.6sec. It was Mikkelsen’s first WRC podium. Third went to Ostberg who finished just 5.9sec behind his fellow Norwegian to secure his fourth consecutive Swedish podium. Hirvonen finished 1min 27.4sec behind with Tanak delivering possibly the drive of the rally to take fifth, 33.6sec further back. Ogier recovered from 20th to finish sixth, overhauling Henning Solberg in the penultimate stage. Pontus Tidemand, Craig Breen and Kris Meeke completed the leaderboard, Meeke bouncing back after losing seven minutes and sixth place when he slid into the snow earlier in the day.