After Wednesday night’s Super Special, the WRC’s snow fest moved into the Swedish and Norwegian countryside today. Here’s our list of the headline-making events and incidents as the day progressed.
SS7: Ogier back in front
Sebastien Ogier regained the lead in today’s final stage as Volkswagen colleague Andreas Mikkelsen ceded his advantage to save tyres.
Ogier was fastest through the second pass of Torsby by 1.5sec from Mads Ostberg, but it was Mikkelsen’s performance and comments which raised eyebrows. The Norwegian was sixth, dropping six seconds to Ogier to end the leg 5.8sec adrift.
“We could have chosen to take new tyres now, but then we would have used tyres tomorrow morning. I preferred to lose time here and have new tyres in the morning. It would have been nice to fight for the lead overnight but it’s a long rally and that’s what we must think about,” he said.
Ott Tanak, probably the driver of the day, was third in the stage and he overnights just 2.6sec behind third-placed Jari-Matti Latvala. Another good performance came from Kris Meeke, who was fourth fastest.
SS6: Mikkelsen back in the lead
Andreas Mikkelsen, who led after last night’s opening super special stage, regained top spot when he was quickest through the second pass of the 16.82km Finnskogen test.
The Norwegian was 0.7sec faster than Volkswagen colleague Sebastien Ogier to move into a 0.2sec advantage. His motivation? “When you see so many Norwegians cheering you on, you want to do well!” he said.
Ogier was first through the stage and predicted his own demise. “I think Andreas is going to be faster. The [driving] lines are not so good for me. The cars that last drove the stage are not World Rally Cars and I lost the rear of the car a few times."
Jari-Matti Latvala was third fastest despite nudging a snow bank, 1.0sec behind Ogier, and that was sufficient to preserve Volkswagen’s domination of the top three.
SS5: Tanak is back!
After more than a year away from the WRC, Ott Tanak posted fastest time on the second pass through Kirkener - only his fifth stage back at the top level.
The Estonian was quickest by 0.5sec in a Ford Fiesta RS, depriving Thierry Neuville of what looked as if it was going to be Hyundai’s first stage win for the new i20 car.
“We did some very small mistakes but I have such a good feeling. I'm just getting going!” promised Tanak.
Andreas Mikkelsen maintained the pressure on Volkswagen colleague Sebastien Ogier at the head of the leaderboard with third fastest time, 1.4sec further back. He narrowed the gap to just 0.5sec and there could have been a change of leader had Mikkelsen not made a slight error.
“I went wide into a corner and it dragged the front of the car into the loose stuff. My mistake,” he admitted.
As competitors reached the regroup in Kirkener after three of today’s six stages, Volkswagen held sway at the top of the leaderboard.
Sebastien Ogier won two of the three stages and leads by 1.6sec in his Polo R. However, fastest time in the last test of the group allowed Andreas Mikkelsen to reduce the gap from 8.7sec.
Jari-Matti Latvala lies third, 4.5sec behind the Norwegian, with surprise package Ott Tanak, Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Ostberg completing the top six.
SS4: Pride of Norway
After a pair of short and technical stages, the 16.82km Finnskogen was the first opportunity of the day for drivers to really stretch their legs. It was in Norway too – a fact not lost on local heroes Andreas Mikkelsen and Henning Solberg who dug deep to set a Norwegian one-two, setting first and second fastest times respectively.
“I really enjoyed that one,” said a delighted Mikkelsen. “I remember driving it before in a Group N car and I’m really happy with how it felt this time.”
Solberg felt his time was helped by some pre-stage set-up changes to his Fiesta RS WRC. “I’m not saying what I did, because all the other Fiesta drivers will copy me,” he explained.
Jari-Matti Latvala was third quickest and feeling far happier than after SS2. "When it's fast and flowing I have a great feeling to drive, but I'm not doing so well on the technical stages," he said.
SS3: Frustration for Latvala
Volkswagen drivers dominated Thursday’s short second stage, with Ogier the winner by a massive 5.7sec and Mikkelsen and Latvala second and third fastest.
Latvala arrived at the finish control shaking his head, extremely frustrated at being 6.6sec slower than Ogier over the 7.6km stage. “My driving is bad,” he said. “I don’t like the gearbox in the car, it is very difficult to change gears here. But that doesn’t explain Ogier’s time. It’s incredible.”
SS2: Ogier takes the lead
Sebastien Ogier began Thursday’s competition strongly, going fastest by 2.6sec on the opening stage, to topple his Volkswagen team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen from his overnight position as rally leader.
After a light dusting of snow overnight, conditions were super slippery on the 7.03m Torsby section, but Ogier felt he had been too cautious. “There were perhaps two centimetres of loose snow on top, but I could have pushed a bit more – especially at the end,” he said. “Not a perfect start, but not bad.”
After an early retirement from Rallye Monte-Carlo, Martin Prokop’s luck showed no sign of changing. The Czech driver dropped more than three minutes when his Fiesta RS WRC slithered off the road and into a ditch. “Luckily there were some spectators around to help us back on the road, but a lot of others were more interested in filming us with their phones,” he said.
On his first event in a World Rally Car Craig Breen was also in trouble. “We have a misfire after changing gear, it sounds like the engine is cutting out briefly with each shift,” he explained. “I also had to change my crash helmet last night and this one is moving all over the place.”