Saturday | 14 Feb 2015

SS15/16: Mikkelsen rebuilds buffer

Andreas Mikkelsen delivered the perfect reposte to Sébastien Ogier’s attempt to wrest the Rally Sweden lead from his hands on Saturday afternoon.

Stage info: SS15/16

SS15: Fredriksberg 2, 18.15km
This test is identical to last year. It starts on a wide road alongside Lake Skärsjön before turning into the forest and the final kilometres pass through a narrow tree-lined section. Generally it’s narrow with stones and tree stumps to trap the unwary. But it’s fast and full of crests - like Finland in the snow.

SS16: Rämmen 2, 22.76km
This is Saturday’s longest stage and also one of the quickest, with wide roads and several flat-out straights. Early in the test the road skirts the edge of Lake Holmsjon and follows the shores of another lake later on. Four uphill open hairpins near the midpoint calm the pace.

Ogier slashed Mikkelsen’s advantage in the morning’s final stage to just 1.7sec, but the Norwegian pulled clear again in the second pass through the Fredriksberg stage as the Frenchman struggled for traction.

He was second fastest, 10.9sec clear of Volkswagen Polo R team-mate Ogier. “We pushed very hard. I knew Ogier would push as well but the conditions helped a bit,” he said.

Mikkelsen was on target to stretch his lead further in the following Rämmen stage until two slight errors in the final section handed 2.2sec back. “Every year I never get that last split right,” he laughed. “I went a little bit straight in two junctions so I had no speed coming out. But we’ll continue to drive flat out, we have nothing to lose.”

Road opener Ogier had the worst of the slushy conditions, especially in Fredriksberg. “It was really, really bad. The line was messed up by the cars behind us in the first pass and I never had any grip in the loose with the rear. The next stage was better, but still not good,” he said.

Thierry Neuville capitalised on Ogier’s struggles to edge his Hyundai i20 into second. The Belgian won Fredriksberg and although he ceded fractions to Ogier in Råmmen after sliding into the snow, Neuville held a 3.7sec advantage.

“I pushed hard in the first one but conditions were tricky. I had a couple of moments and Nicolas told me to calm down. I was a bit smoother towards the end. I tried to look outside the lines for traction in the next one. It wasn’t the best feeling but the time is good,” he said.

Kris Meeke (below) won Råmmen in Citroen’s DS 3, the Northern Irishman admitting: “Conditions are definitely improving for cars further down the order.”

Martin Prokop counted himself lucky to have escaped when his Ford Fiesta RS landed on its nose after a SS15 jump, while Kevin Abbring dropped 90sec at the same corner as Mikkelsen and Neuville made mistakes.

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