Rally Sweden followed the same vein as the season-opener at Rallye Monte Carlo – full of surprises, twists and turns when least expected. In the second of our two-part debrief, we focus on the moments that mattered.
Driver of the Rally
Thierry Neuville had this one nailed until he paid an early evening visit to Karlstad trotting track on Saturday. Ott Tänak never put a foot wrong as he outgunned team-mate Sébastien Ogier for second.
But it’s impossible to look beyond Jari-Matti Latvala. Three months ago the Finn wondered if he had a WRC future following Volkswagen’s departure. He put together a late deal with Toyota and was in the right place at the right time to finish second in Monte-Carlo.
But Sweden was something else. He led after the curtain-raiser in Karlstad, duelled with Neuville during the opening leg and, following the Belgian’s demise, outpaced Tänak to win and lead the championship. It was no fluke either – six fastest times from 17 stages saw to that.
Stage of the Weekend
When Neuville blasted through the second pass of Svullrya on Friday afternoon, we thought he had made the break that would cast aside his bad memories from Monte-Carlo three weeks earlier.
The Norwegian test had never been driven in this direction until the first run a few hours earlier. This time he stormed through the 24.88km test 11.8sec quicker than anyone else, and 17.9sec quicker than closest challenger Latvala. He stretched his lead from a fraction over 6sec to 24sec.
Surely he was on course for victory……
Surprise of the Rally
The pre-season predictions from pundits were that Toyota Gazoo Racing was under-prepared and likely to be the weakest of the four manufacturer teams. Fast forward a few weeks and the Japanese manufacturer celebrated a Monte-Carlo podium.
Three weeks later and the team was on the top step in Sweden. There’s a long way to go yet in this 2017 season, but a lot of people were rethinking their thoughts in Torsby. And it’s also worth pointing out that team principal Tommi Mäkinen was one of those!
Quote of the Rally
Hayden Paddon drove 60km of stages on Saturday morning without power steering in his Hyundai i20 Coupe. His view: “With these wider cars it’s like wrestling a 400lb lion – and I’m coming off second best!”