Round two in Sweden pitched drivers against unusually mild winter weather and unfamiliar conditions. Here is the first part of wrc.com’s view on their performances.
Jari-Matti Latvala (VW Polo R)
Much was expected of the two-time Sweden winner and when things went wrong for Ogier, Latvala delivered the perfect result. Seemed to relish the patchy conditions - as he did when he won in 2008. Deserves credit for a clean run, the way he dealt with the pressure of expectation and the way he fended off a motivated Andreas Mikkelsen. Through it all he showed a calmer, more focused approach.
Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20)
He lasted longer than in Monte Carlo, but Neuville’s rally was again cut short - this time on SS8 when he hit a rock and broke his front suspension. The Belgian’s highlight came on SS5 when it looked like he would take the car’s first stage win. Unfortunately he lost out to Ott Tanak by 0.5sec. Plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the car’s potential, but a big disappointment that Neuville was unable to get the car through in one piece.
Mikko Hirvonen (Ford Fiesta RS)
Reliable, and came away with a decent fourth, but was unable to match the pace of the leaders. His best was third fastest, which he managed on three occasions, including the Power Stage. Often, however, he was found outside the top five times, and frequently behind fellow Fiesta driver Henning Solberg, who hadn’t driven a World Rally Car for a year. Okay, he’s still adjusting to the Fiesta after a spell at Citroen, but this, like the Monte, was another below par outing.
Sebastien Ogier (Volkswagen Polo R)
An early lead, a small mistake and then a hugely impressive salvage job. Ogier’s slide into the snow on SS8 may have scuppered plans to repeat his 2013 win, but his comeback from 20th to sixth was nothing short of remarkable. Post off, a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude on Friday netted six stage wins including a jaw-dropping victory on the Rammen repeat (SS14) where he was quickest by 11.1sec. Poor road position put Power Stage points out of reach but his was a model recovery.
Henning Solberg (Ford Fiesta RS)
We’ve missed Henning. And his first stage end interview reminded us why. Despite limited testing, the extrovert Norwegian had a ball. Second quickest on SS4, and fastest on the first Hagfors Sprint, Henning looked on course to bag sixth until the recovering Ogier sailed past two stages from home. Still, the result was one better than he managed in 2013 and put him one place ahead of stepson Pontus Tidemand. A great return, and an experience he’ll want to repeat this year.
Robert Kubica (Ford Fiesta RS WRC)
The Pole’s first outing on snow – a surface as far away from a racing circuit as you can imagine - and he expected it to be tough. It was. The thawing conditions were different to those on which he had tested and he found it difficult to judge grip levels. Two snow bank excursions cost 20 minutes, while an overly cautious approach contributed to another off into a ditch on the last day. Finished, which was his target, but had hoped to do so without as many mistakes. Another learning rally.