Thrills, spills and drama in remote forests locked under winter’s spell provided a tasty menu for 2019’s opening loose surface round at Rally Sweden. We look back at what was, paradoxically, one of the season’s fastest fixtures.
1. Tänak on top
When Ott Tänak clambered out of his Toyota Yaris on the winners’ podium in Torsby to a rapturous reception, the significance went far beyond his seventh WRC victory and becoming the fourth non-Scandinavian winner in Sweden.
His commanding 53.7sec triumph promoted the Estonian into the lead of the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time in his career. It was a position he went on to occupy for much of the year en route to his maiden world title.
Tänak led early on but slipped back as conditions turned against him on Friday afternoon. He regained the initiative on Saturday and when closest rival Teemu Suninen spun into the snow, he inherited a comfortable lead, making for an easy Sunday drive to the finish.
2. Lucky Lappi
Esapekka Lappi injected some Finnish magic into his Swedish sojourn to edge a captivating final-day fight for second following a top drawer ‘save’ in Friday’s opening leg.
Lappi admitted it was a close call when he tangled with the snowbanks in the second pass through the Hof-Finnskog special stage. “I got caught by a short right-hander in fifth gear. I hit a bank and almost rolled. It was a hell of a moment but luckily we made it through,” explained the Citroën C3 driver.
His reward came in a determined Wolf Power Stage drive when he fended off Thierry Neuville by 3.0sec, after seeing off the challenges of Andreas Mikkelsen and Elfyn Evans.
3. Suninen shines bright
Suninen led a WRC round for the first time when he topped the leaderboard on Friday night. He became the fourth leader of an intensely difficult day, holding onto a 2.0sec advantage after a dramatic finale as darkness descended over the frozen forests.
The Finn negotiated the final 8.93km Torsby speed test with his Ford Fiesta’s front light pod flapping across the bonnet and obscuring his vision. With reduced lighting, Suninen swiped several snowbanks but kept cool to hold off Tänak.
Sadly, he plunged down the order after burying his car in a snowbank on Saturday morning, before later retiring after crashing into a tree and damaging his safety roll cage.
4. Ogier’s day to forget
Three weeks previously Sébastien Ogier sat on top of the world after beginning his title defence with a sixth consecutive Rallye Monte-Carlo victory on his return to Citroën Racing in the closest Monte finish ever.
Fast forward to February and the Frenchman was reflecting on a 29th place finish after spinning his C3 into the snow in Friday’s Svullrya test. There was nobody to help and no way back.
5. Bosse’s back
Double world champion and Rally Sweden legend Marcus Grönholm was back behind the wheel for a one-off WRC return 12 years after his full-time career ended. It was a belated 50th birthday present to himself for the man nicknamed Bosse by his Scandinavian fans.
We were quickly back in 2007. The Finn completed Friday’s opening Hof-Finnskog stage with the front grille of his Toyota Yaris stuffed with snow after a big spin.
Approached by journalists eager to find out what had happened, Grönholm offered a shake of the head, a wry smile and his trademark exclamation: “Oy, oy, oy!” That was all he needed to say – we knew it had been a lucky escape. He ended a troubled weekend 38th overall.