Thierry Neuville fended off team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen to hold a slender Rally Sweden lead on Friday afternoon. The margin between the duelling Hyundai i20 duo was a single second as they slid through a repeat of this morning’s speed tests in Norway, where conditions were even more difficult than earlier.
Neuville had to be content with sixth fastest in Hof-Finnskog and fifth in the following Svullrya as his Norwegian colleague closed the gap, despite a scare for Mikkelsen towards the end of the latter stage.
He jumped out of his car at the finish for an anxious look around before explaining: “For the last 5km I thought I had a puncture because the car was everywhere. It felt really strange.”
Mikkelsen conceded second to Esapekka Lappi in Hof-Finnskog but regained it when the Finn dropped 35sec in the following test and plummeted to seventh. He finished with snow stuffed into the front grille of his Toyota Yaris and admitted his error.
“We went wide in a junction into the snow and blocked the air filter. No grip on the braking. engine is down on power now,” he said.
His mistake allowed Mads Østberg to climb to third, the Norwegian just 0.6sec ahead of flying Citroën C3 team-mate Craig Breen, who was quickest in Svullrya. Haydon Paddon was fifth after winning the previous test in his i20 with Teemu Suninen next up in sixth.
Both stages were a nightmare for the early starters, who struggled for grip in lines created by the historic rally competitors. Who followed the WRC crews through the tests this morning.
Road opener Sébastien Ogier described the conditions as ‘a joke’ as he dropped more than a minute in his Ford Fiesta, while Ott Tänak conceded almost 50sec and was down to ninth in the standings.
Elfyn Evans dropped 20sec after spinning his Fiesta into a snowbank.