Saturday 11 February 2017

Rally - Sweden Day 1

Thierry Neuville led Rally Sweden at the overnight halt on Friday after a thrilling duel with Jari-Matti Latvala in which the lead changed hands several times. Just 28.1seconds separated the Hyundai i20 Coupe from the Toyota Yaris with Ott Tänak a further 21.6sec behind in third place in his Fiesta.

Neuville won the opening two tests across the border in Norway before Latvala fought back to lead at the midpoint. Neuville edged ahead again by winning all three repeated stages, taking a full 18 seconds out of Latvala on the day's penultimate test. The Belgian extended his lead in the final stage, despite hanging on to his door which refused to stay closed.

Snow flurries made the roads slippery this afternoon and drivers fought to keep their cars in the ruts where traction was best.

“Jari-Matti had the advantage of the conditions this morning, but this afternoon was better for me as the driving line was cleaner and I tried to take the benefit,” said Neuville. “The last stage was tricky in the dark and my door was opening which disturbed me.”

Tänak was the only other driver to win a stage. The Estonian bounced back into the top three after his Ford Fiesta’s gearbox was replaced when it started jumping out of gear.

Kris Meeke was 2.1sec behind in fourth. The Ulsterman yielded the final podium place to the recovering Tänak after a last stage mistake when a bump threw his Citroën C3 off line and into a snowbank. A
t the overnight halt, Kris commented: "After a good morning, I lost time in the afternoon. On SS5, I dropped about fifteen seconds stuck in a snow bank. The car hit a bump, we ran wide on the next corner and were lucky not to lose more. On the final stage, I had no grip. My tyres were completely shot, they had lost most of their studs. But we're still in contention for a place on the podium, so I still feel positive."

Road opener Sébastien Ogier endured the worst of the conditions but persevered to hold fifth, 3.9sec behind Meeke and almost a minute off the leader's pace.
“We really tried everything we could," said Ogier, "but it’s clear that the conditions have not been on our side today. Following the historic cars this afternoon was especially difficult as the first car on the road and there really wasn’t much we could do." He added (perhaps rather ominously?): "Tomorrow we will have better conditions so we’re looking forward to a more enjoyable day. We weren’t able to show our true performance today, and tomorrow I think we’ll have a better indication of where we are.”

Hayden Paddon was sixth, the Kiwi revitalised this afternoon after set-up changes to his i20 Coupe offset a disappointing morning.

Meeke's team mate Craig Breen didn't have such a good day commenting: "It hasn't really been our day today! I made a series of mistakes, I damaged certain parts of the bodywork and I lost some of the aero package. It's incredible what a difference the aerodynamics of the C3 WRC make. Despite all that, we're still in the race, less than a minute off sixth place."


Faring slightly worse than the Irishman, Elfyn Evans finished the day in ninth place. He suffered a puncture after running the DMACK Fiesta wide into a snow bank on the first pass of Svullrya (SS4).

The Welshman had been matching his rivals before the incident – costing him almost two minutes to the leading pack and relegated him outside of the top-ten. Fighting back, Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt now hold ninth place overall.

Juho Hänninen retired his Yaris with a damaged radiator after hitting a tree, while Mads Østberg withdrew before the final stage after losing his Fiesta’s aerodynamic rear wing.

1. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) 1:16:24.7
2. Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +28.1
3. Tanak / Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +49.7
4. Meeke / Nagle (Citroën C3 WRC) +51.8
5. Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +55.7
6. Paddon / Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:17.8
7. Sordo / Marti (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:40.3
8. Breen / Martin (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:54.3
9. Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +3:01.6
10. Lefebvre / Moreau (DS 3 WRC) +3:23.6

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