As Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen shape up for a great fight tomorrow, we round-up the biggest stories from day three of Rally Sweden:
SS14: Kubica off road again
Robert Kubica’s attempts to come to grips with his first proper snow rally took another setback in the final country test of today’s second leg when he plunged into a snowbank for the second time in three stages.
Having planted his Ford Fiesta RS in the snow and dropping 10 minutes in Lesjofors, the Pole’s vertical learning curve took another step when he did exactly the same near the finish of the 22.76km Rämmen.
“I lost the rear of the car and the snowbank was soft and it pulled us in. It has been a very bad afternoon. I made two mistakes, I was a bit unlucky, but that’s how it is. When you touch snowbanks it’s very easy that they pull you in. Thanks to spectators we are back, and I hope tomorrow will be better,” said Kubica.
Mads Ostberg almost became involved in Kubica’s incident. As spectators worked furiously to dig the Fiesta RS out of the snow, the Norwegian flashed by, just missing fans and car. “That was incredibly close,” said Ostberg.
SS12: Trouble for Kubica and Hanninen
Robert Kubica and Juho Hanninen both hit problems as the afternoon began with a second pass through the 15.00km Lesjofors stage.
First to suffer was Kubica, the Pole piling into a snowbank after a crest early in the stage. It took 10 minutes to rescue the Ford Fiesta RS from the white stuff and his place in the top 10 leaderboard has gone.
Hanninen came to a halt in the second part of the test with a damaged front wheel on his Hyundai i20. It is not known what happened but it spells the end of Hyundai’s interest in the day following the retirement of Thierry Neuville in the first pass through the stage this morning.
There was also concern in the cockpit of second-placed Andreas Mikkelsen. His Volkswagen Polo R finished with the radiator packed full of snow. Warning lights showed the water temperature soaring and the Norwegian headed off quickly to take a look.
SS10: Latvala leads
Jari-Matti Latvala moved into the lead of Rally Sweden in the Rämmen stage when Andreas Mikkelsen dropped time after sliding into a ditch near the finish.
Mikkelsen ceded five seconds to his Volkswagen colleague and admitted he was fortunate to escape so lightly. “We went out in a ditch in fourth or fifth gear and filled the front of the car with snow. We’re lucky we got out of there to be honest. We were keeping up with Jari-Matti until then,” said the Norwegian.
Latvala moved ahead by 1.8sec but the Finn also found the stage tough. “I pushed a lot. At the start there was a lot of snow and I had a good feeling. The stage then climbed the mountain and there were some long corners where I was loading the rear tyres. They overheated and then I was struggling a little,” he explained.
Sébastien Ogier set fastest time in his Polo R while Mads Ostberg consolidated third place in his Citroen DS3, extending his advantage over Mikko Hirvonen’s Fiesta RS to 7.4sec.
SS9: Mikkelsen fights back
After watching Jari-Matti Latvala almost wipe out his advantage in this morning’s opening stage, Andreas Mikkelsen reasserted his authority on Rally Sweden by widening his lead in the classic Fredriksberg test.
The Norwegian was second fastest in his Volkswagen Polo R, 2.8sec behind team-mate Sébastien Ogier. But, more importantly, he was 2.7sec quicker than Latvala to open the gap to 3.3sec overall.
“We fitted new tyres and it was the right choice,” said Mikkelsen. “We’ll see how much we used them but this rally is all about tyres. I’m trying to balance my speed. Before I have been too eager in this situation and made mistakes but now I want to control it more. There’s still room for improvement, but then you start taking risks.”
Latvala is relishing the battle. “It’s a very good fight at the moment and I’m enjoying it. The car feels good but Andreas is pushing hard and is doing a very good job. He has the young spirit!” said the Finn.
The three-car battle for third continued unabated. Fourth fastest time for Mads Ostberg enabled him to widen his advantage over Mikko Hirvonen to 1.6sec, but Ott Tanak is only 2.5sec further back.
The day is over for Thierry Neuville. After hitting a rock and damaging the front right hub assembly on his Hyundai i20 in the previous test, he eventually emerged from the stage but the damage was too great to continue.
SS8: Ogier and Neuville in trouble
Big dramas in the opening 15.00km Lesjöfors stage when both Sébastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville hit problems.
Ogier planted his Volkswagen Polo R into a snow bank in a slow corner 3km from the finish. “I missed a little bit the entry point. I wasn’t concentrating. I wanted to push, it was a stupid mistake,” he said.
Ogier dropped 4min 30sec and his chances of points are slim. “I’ll do my best now. I don’t know what is possible but I guess it will be hard.”
Neuville parked his Hyundai by the side of the road 9.5km after the start with what his team described as a damaged wheel carrier on the front right. After working on the car for more than 25 minutes, Neuville restarted but stopped again soon after. He eventually got his car to the end but with the loss of 41 minutes.
Jari-Matti Latvala was fastest by 5.8sec from Volkswagen colleague Andreas Mikkelsen to close the gap in the overall standings to just six-tenths of a second.
“It’s a big day,” said Latvala. “Conditions are more demanding than yesterday. It’s soft and there’s a lot of snow at the side of the ruts, so we really need to keep the car in the tracks.”
Ott Tanak spun his Ford Fiesta RS near the finish in a narrow section. It took the Estonian considerable time to manoeuvre his car back in the right direction and he dropped to fifth behind Mads Ostberg and Mikko Hirvonen in the standings.