Ott Tänak’s Rally Sweden lead approached the minute mark on Saturday afternoon but the fight for the remaining podium places became ever tighter.
Stage info: SS12/13
SS12: Rämmen 2, 23.13km
The only new stage for 2019, although Rämmen is by no means new to the rally. It was last driven in 2016, but in the opposite direction, and drivers don’t spend too much time on the brakes in here. After a flowing start, the test develops into a series of long high-speed sections, broken up by narrower and twistier roads around a series of lakes.
SS13: Hagfors 2, 23.40km
A well-known stage with a spectacular finale. After negotiating a series of fast, flowing corners, competitors burst into view in front of thousands of fans on the Värmullsåsen ski slope. A set of tight downhill hairpin bends leads into a big jump before the finish at the bottom of the hill on the edge of Hagfors. The test underwent changes last year and is driven in the same format this time round.
Tänak won the second passes through Rämmen and Hagfors in his Toyota Yaris to stretch his advantage to 51.7sec, but less than 18sec blanketed the following quartet as they continued to trade places.
“Conditions in Rämmen were like driving on a railway, with so much grip. The next one was a lot harder but we kept steady and in the lines,” he said.
Andreas Mikkelsen retained second, but his advantage was less than comfortable after an unplanned visit into the Hagfors snow. “I lost the grip and ended in a snowbank. We were lucky to get out,” explained the Norwegian, who dropped almost 10sec in his Hyundai i20.
The excursion left him 7.0sec clear of an inspired Esapekka Lappi (pictured), who demoted both Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville in Rämmen. Rising temperatures meant the roads were slushier then this morning’s pass and Lappi admitted driving was a bigger challenge.
“To be on the pace and to be off completely is a much thinner line than in the first pass. Lose the car in the slush and you can lose the whole race,” said the Citroen C3 pilot.
Neuville was fourth, a further 3.2sec behind in his i20. The Belgian had a wary eye on today’s remaining stages, managing his tyres in the knowledge the afternoon loop is longer than this morning.
Elfyn Evans was fourth in Rämmen but lost crucial seconds in Hagfors with a ‘mountain of oversteer’. The Welshman dropped from third at service to fifth, 7.5sec behind Neuville.
Kris Meeke’s bid to stay in the podium scrap faded and the Yaris driver was more than 20sec further adrift.
Teemu Suninen’s recovery from this morning’s error continued to gain momentum and the Finn moved ahead of Sébastien Loeb into seventh - only to fall behind again in Hagfors.