OTT TÄNAK HELD A COMMANDING LEAD OF ALMOST A MINUTE AT RALLY SWEDEN ON SATURDAY NIGHT AS TEEMU SUNINEN’S HOPES OF A MAIDEN FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP VICTORY WERE DASHED.Tänak starts Sunday’s short final leg with a 54.5sec advantage in his Toyota Yaris, ahead of a huge battle behind for the remaining podium slots.
That fight does not include Suninen, who led a WRC round for the first time overnight. He plunged down the order after burying his Ford Fiesta in a snowbank this morning, before later retiring after crashing into a tree and damaging his car’s safety roll cage.
Tänak trailed Suninen by 2.0sec last night. He demoted the Finn in the opening speed test and Suninen’s error in the next special stage handed the Estonian a lead of more than half a minute. Three afternoon stage victories lifted the margin to a comfortable level.
“Yesterday we had a tough job to do to be in this position and today we got through without any issues. This afternoon the grip changed at every corner and you never knew what to expect. Hopefully we can control things a bit tomorrow, but it’s never an easy ride,” he said.
Andreas Mikkelsen headed a monster four-driver scrap for second for most of the day in his Hyundai i20. The quartet traded places in every stage but, despite a spin, the Norwegian repelled his pursuers until the final test when Esapekka Lappi moved level on time.
Lappi made good progress throughout the day in a Citroën C3. He had 2.3sec in hand over a charging Thierry Neuville, who was fortunate to escape a massive 360° spin in the Vargåsen stage with the loss of only a handful of seconds.
Teemu Suninen retired after damaging his Fiesta’s roll cage
Fifth was Elfyn Evans, the Welshman sliding out of the top three as he struggled for speed in his oversteering Ford Fiesta. He stayed firmly in the fight though, 11.9sec behind Neuville.
The forest road stages around Hagfors were in perfect condition this morning. A solid ice base ensured great grip, but as temperatures rose the roads became softer and slushier, and the later starters benefited after the dirt was cleared by those ahead.
Kris Meeke was unable to keep in touch with those in front in his Yaris. The Briton fell into the clutches of Sébastien Loeb and ended just 1.6sec ahead. Loeb recovered time as the day progressed after his pace notes proved too slow for the morning’s fast roads.
Pontus Tidemand, WRC 2 leader Ole Christian Veiby and Jari Huttunen completed the leaderboard.
Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala restarted after retiring yesterday. Both were well down the classification but Ogier won three stages in his C3 and Latvala one in his Yaris, before he lost more time after spinning into the snow and getting stuck.
Sunday’s finale features just three stages covering 51.31km. A double pass through the Likenäs test is followed by the live TV Wolf Power Stage at Torsby, with bonus points for the fastest five drivers.
WRC: Rally Sweden – Classification after SS16
2. Andreas Mikkelsen NOR Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +54.5s
3. Esapekka Lappi FIN Toyota Yaris Gazoo Racing +54.5s
4. Thierry Neuville BEL Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +56.8s
5. Elfyn Evans GBR M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC +1m 08.7s
6. Kris Meeke GBR Toyota Yaris Gazoo Racing +1m 36.5s
7. Sebastien Loeb FRA Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1m 38.1s
8. Pontus Tidemand SWE M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC +3m 08.0s
9. Ole Christian Veiby NOR Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 +5m 23.4s
10. Jari Huttunen FIN Skoda Fabia R5 +5m 35.4s
11. Emil Lindholm FIN Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 +6m 55.6s
12. Mads Ostberg NOR Citroen Total C3 R5 +6m 56.8s
13. Janne Tuohino FIN Ford Fiesta WRC +7m 17.3s
13. Emil Bergkvist SWE Ford Fiesta R5 +7m 24.6s
14. Johan Kristoffersson SWE Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 +7m 41.5s
Teemu Suninen FIN M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC SS14 Accident
Jari-Matti Latvala FIN Toyota Yaris Gazoo Racing SS8 Accident*
Sebastien Ogier FRA Citroen C3 WRC SS6 Accident*
Marcus Gronholm FIN Toyota Yaris Gazoo Racing SS4 Accident*
*Restarted under Rally 2 rules