We begin our build-up to Rally Sweden (9 - 12 February) with a look back to last year when Sébastien Ogier added to his opening round win in Monte-Carlo with a start-to-finish victory in a Volkswagen Polo R.
The pre-rally talk was dominated by the weather. Mild temperatures threw the event into doubt, but organisers stitched together a revised route and when the snow and freezing temperatures finally arrived the action was fast and furious.
Friday – leg 1
Ogier won all three morning special stages. Heavy afternoon snow left him at a disadvantage as road opener, but he overcame an overshoot and a bent steering arm to head Hayden Paddon by 26.9sec.
The Kiwi enjoyed a superb debut in Hyundai’s new i20 to win the final two speed tests and rocket up from sixth. Mads Østberg completed the top three after changing both the set-up of his Ford Fiesta RS and his driving style.
Ott Tänak, Dani Sordo and Andreas Mikkelsen completed a tightly bunched top six, less than nine seconds spanning Østberg to Mikkelsen. The latter was Ogier’s closest challenger until he hit a tree stump and spun.
Several frontrunners had a tough day. Kris Meeke, lying second, hit a stone buried in the road and retired. Thierry Neuville and Jari-Matti Latvala limped through much of the leg in two-wheel drive with a broken differential and broken front driveshaft respectively. Latvala eventually stopped in the final stage.
Saturday – leg 2
Paddon carved into Ogier’s advantage but the Frenchman repelled the attack to retain a 17.1sec lead. Up to 10cm of snow filled the forests and the slippery surface was bad news for road opener Ogier. He ploughed a clean line of which Paddon, starting six cars further back, took advantage.
Østberg lost third after flirting with a ditch, but reasserted himself in the final podium place. Mikkelsen lost any realistic chance of a top three finish when he spun and was 25.1sec behind Østberg.
Tänak was fifth but a front left puncture slowed Sordo, who fell back from the podium battle into sixth. Latvala won two stages as he recovered from a disastrous opening leg but Eric Camilli rolled his Fiesta RS heavily.
Sunday – leg 3
The final day comprised just the Power Stage and Ogier stretched his winning margin to 29.8sec. Paddon matched a career-best result in second, despite a late scare when he hit a wooden post and damaged his radiator.
Østberg completed the podium, with Mikkelsen, Tänak and Sordo filling the top six.