SS12/13: Neuville clear

Rally Sweden leader Thierry Neuville created daylight between himself and his rivals for the first time on Saturday afternoon.

Stage info: SS12/13

SS12: Torntorp 2, 19.88km
A blast from the past! The popular Torntorp is back with flat-out action through forests, open fields and meadows. There is plenty of snow in here and good snow banks into which drivers can ‘lean’ their cars. It’s pace and beautiful scenery make it a classic among drivers and fans alike.

SS13: Hagfors 2, 23.40km
An extended version of a well-known stage. The opening half was last driven four years ago before it joins up with last year’s test. It has a spectacular finale as, after negotiating a series of fast, flowing corners, competitors burst into view in front of thousands of fans on the Värmullsåsen ski slope. A set of tight downhill hairpin bends leads into a big jump before the finish at the bottom of the hill on the edge of Hagfors.

After spending almost two days fending off his challengers by no more than a handful of seconds, the Belgian delivered a stunning drive on the gravelly roads of the Hagfors speed test to stretch his advantage to 14.0sec over Craig Breen.

The Hyundai i20 driver completed the 23.40km stage 6.6sec faster than team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen, and nearly 10sec up on Breen.

“I had quite a big push in there and the car worked well. It was a very tricky stage and easy to go off. I went wide a few times but kept the rhythm towards the end,” said Neuville.

While most drivers opted to carry two spare wheels, Breen gambled on saving weight by choosing one and the vast amount of gravel did him no favours.

“That was just what I didn’t want. I tried to manage the tyres and not load them so much. It was probably the trickiest stage of the rally so far,” said the Citroën C3 driver, who was fastest in the previous Torntorp stage.

He had a 12.8sec advantage over Mikkelsen in third, with Paddon hard on his heels and just 3.5sec behind.

There was plenty of drama further down the order for Kris Meeke and Ott Tänak after the Briton’s C3 dived into the snow early in the stage.

“A simple mistake, I just nosed into a snow bank and when I got back out and got going there was no engine power, nothing. We got out and cleaned everything. Then Ott tried to pass me. I was right over in the ditch but he hit me and then went off,” explained Meeke.

Tanak’s view? “I caught Kris, tried to pass in a narrow place and he pulled back and hit us off the road,” he said. The Estonian dropped two minutes to plunge to ninth, while Meeke conceded six minutes in the stage before retiring on the next liaison section with engine problems.

Elfyn Evans dropped 20sec after a lurid high speed spin into a snow bank in his Ford Fiesta.

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