Jari-Matti Latvala was the surprise leader of Rally Sweden on Saturday night after Thierry Neuville crashed out of top spot in the final speed test.
Neuville held a comfortable advantage before ripping the left front wheel from his Hyundai i20 Coupe after going off the road in the short special stage at Karlstad trotting track.
His demise left the Finn with a slender 3.8sec lead in his Toyota Yaris over the rapidly closing Ott Tänak with just Sunday’s short finale remaining. World champion Sébastien Ogier was only 12.8sec further back in third.
It is the second rally in a row in which the Belgian has crashed out of a secure lead. He hit a drainage culvert and broke his suspension in last month’s season-opening Rally Monte-Carlo - ironically, that also happened in Saturday’s final stage.
Having pulled clear of Latvala late on Friday, Neuville measured his pace on snow and ice-covered forest roads and his lead hovered around 30sec. Victory in the penultimate speed test increased his advantage to 43.3sec before his error.
A thin layer of overnight snow ensured drivers struggled for grip and Latvala couldn’t match yesterday’s pace. He regretted his decision to carry two spare wheels this morning as Tänak closed in with an impressive hat-trick of stage wins in his Ford Fiesta.
“I carried too much weight at the back and lost time in the long corners,” said Latvala.
Freed from opening the roads in the worst of the conditions, Ogier quickly demoted Kris Meeke from fourth. But the Frenchman admitted he couldn’t find the speed he hoped for.
Meeke was a comfortable fifth in his Citroën C3 before diving off the road and down a small bank in the penultimate test. Fans lifted his car back onto the track but more than eight minutes passed before he continued and he plunged off the leaderboard.
His mistake promoted Dani Sordo into fourth, the Spaniard 25.0sec clear of Craig Breen. After an error-strewn day yesterday, Breen was mistake-free as his confidence grew ‘step-by-step’ on his C3 debut.
Elfyn Evans was sixth ahead of Hayden Paddon who drove all morning with no power steering in his i20 Coupe. He lost almost four minutes, comparing driving the car to ‘wrestling a 400lb lion’.
Stéphane Lefebvre, WRC 2 leader Pontus Tidemand and Teemu Suninen completed the leaderboard, while Neuville will restart tomorrow in 13th with a 10-minute penalty.
Speeds were high and after the opening Knon test was won at an average of 137kph, the afternoon’s repeat pass was cancelled for safety reasons.
Sunday’s final leg is the shortest with just three stages covering 58.81km. Two passes through Likenäs precede the live TV Power Stage at Torsby, which offers bonus points to the fastest five drivers.
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