The massive fight for the lead of Rally Sweden continued unabated on Friday afternoon as Thierry Neuville demoted Jari-Matti Latvala to move back in front.
Stage info: SS5 / SS6
SS5: Röjden 2, 18.47km
A classic stage used many times in national rallies. It starts in Sweden and crosses into Norway for 12km before returning to Sweden again. The stage offers a mix of fast and slower roads, with few junctions but an exceptionally tricky jump in the middle. Driven in the same format as last year.
SS6: Hof-Finnskog 2, 21.26km
A new stage that has never been used before. Narrow and winding roads in hilly areas mix with long straights and open landscapes to offer a little bit of everything. It is fast throughout with plenty of quick corners but several bumps which will require care.
In a carbon copy of the morning loop, Neuville won the Röjden and Hof-Finnskog tests in his Hyundai i20 Coupe to move 6.1sec ahead of the Finn with two more special stages remaining in today’s first full day.
The Belgian was 4.1sec faster than revitalised team-mate Hayden Paddon in Röjden, before outgunning Latvala by 2.3sec in the next test, where a thin layer of fresh snow made conditions tricky.
Grip was scarce everywhere. After the rally’s first pass through the stages, the 50 cars in the historic section created a different set of lines on the roads. The increased width of the 2017-specification World Rally Cars made it hard for drivers to stay in the ruts in the repeat run.
“It’s tricky. There’s so much grip in the lines but as soon as you go out of them, the rear of the car loses traction. I feel I should go faster, but when I do so I lose the line,” he explained.
Ott Tänak had a new gearbox fitted to his Ford Fiesta and top five times in both stages promoted him to third. He was 22.5sec behind Latvala and 1.5sec ahead of Kris Meeke, who lost 10sec in Röjden after being thrown offline by a bump and into a snowbank.
Road opener Sébastien Ogier suffered more than anyone in the conditions. He described the stages as ‘undriveable’ but the Frenchman was fifth. Just behind was Paddon, top three times in both stages the result of set-up changes which restored the Kiwi’s confidence.
Mads Østberg also replaced his gearbox but it took longer than expected and he incurred a 50sec penalty. Worse was to follow when his Fiesta’s aerodynamic rear wing flew off while flat out in sixth gear, leaving the car with much-reduced downforce at the back.
There was disappointment for Juho Hänninen (below) who retired his Toyota Yaris after sliding into a tree near the finish of Röjden and damaging the radiator, while Craig Breen twice buried his Citroën C3 into snowbanks.