Sweden driver report: Part 1
How did the top drivers fare in season’s only pure winter rally?
Sebastien Ogier (Volkswagen Polo R)
Ogier (above) went to Sweden with low expectations of success because of new start order rules he felt would disadvantage him. In the event, his road position had its pros and cons but Ogier remained at maximum attack regardless. Despite losing 30 seconds in a snow bank, and his wipers packing up, he never gave up fighting and by Saturday night was confident enough to tell his two rivals Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen that he would beat them. He rates this win as one of his best.
Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20)
He might not have the fastest car, but the Belgian’s strategy of keeping out of trouble worked a treat. He was never more than 36 seconds off the lead and played a shrewd tactical card on Saturday by taking two spare tyres to give him an edge on the repeated stages. Fastest on SS15 and SS18 (where he also nailed the Colin’s Crest award with a 44-metre flight) he was a surprise leader going into Sunday’s stages, but couldn’t hold off the Polos for long. Second place following Mikkelsen’s spin was a well-deserved confidence booster and puts him second in the drivers’ standings.
Kris Meeke (DS 3)
This was Kris’s second appearance in Sweden and his inexperience showed with a number of trips into the snow, the first of which cost him three minutes and any prospect of a decent result. From then on it was another learning rally, and an opportunity to build experience. Along the way were a few more spins – including one on the Power stage that ended his battle with Elfyn Evans for sixth - but also the highlight of a stage win to underline his potential.
Elfyn Evans (Ford Fiesta RS)
Like Meeke, this was Elfyn’s second taste of Rally Sweden, and it was pretty clear on Friday that it was a taste he didn’t like. He struggled with confidence, especially getting the braking right, but was sixth until Stage 8 when he went off into the snow and lost two minutes. He remained in the doldrums on Saturday morning, but the conditions on the repeated loop suited him better and he made useful progress, eventually beating Meeke in an exciting duel for sixth.
Andreas Mikkelsen (Volkswagen Polo R)
You have to feel for poor Andreas Mikkelsen. From the moment Ogier and Latvala went off on Friday, gifting him the lead, the scene was set for a fairy tale drive to his first WRC win, more or less on home ground. But with Neuville and Ogier on his tail it was never a comfortable position - especially after a spin on SS14 cost him all but 1.7sec of his lead. Having lost first place on Saturday night, he snatched it back on the penultimate stage, and was on course to win before that spin five kilometres from the end.
Lorenzo Bertelli (Ford Fiesta RS)
This was Bertelli’s first attempt at Sweden in a World Rally Car, and it didn’t go smoothly. The Italian reported an ominous noise on Friday’s opening stage and a few kilometres later he lost rear-wheel drive. After dropping minutes on the two stages that followed he retired at the midpoint regroup. He rejoined on Saturday in the tricky position of first on the road, but retired again when he went off on Stage 14 – the same test that caught out both Ogier and Latvala. He rejoined again on Sunday, determined to complete the event. He did.
Robert Kubica (Ford Fiesta RS)
After a string of fastest times at Rallye Monte-Carlo, Kubica’s encouraging start to the season continued with a largely mistake-free Sweden. Sadly the results don’t reflect this because one stage after SS6, when he was third fastest, his car’s diff broke and he lost rear-wheel-drive, and about six minutes, over three stages. Worse was to come on Sunday, when he was hit with a five-minute penalty for a turbo boost irregularity.