MADS ØSTBERG HOLDS A 1M30SEC LEAD IN WRC 2 PRO AT RALLY SWEDEN AFTER A TROUBLE-FREE RUN IN MIXED STAGE CONDITIONS.Although most of Friday’s wintry stages were in Østberg’s home country of Norway, the 31-year-old was rarely comfortable with the set-up of his Citroën C3 R5, but he managed to avoid the more serious problems that gradually sidelined the rest of the field.
Poland’s Lukasz Pieniazek was first to hit trouble and he retired after crashing his Ford Fiesta into a tree in SS2. Skoda protege Kalle Rovanperä took the lead from SS1 winner Eerik Pietarinen, before the leaderboard was turned on its head in SS3 when both drivers went off.
Rovanpera lost more than 2m20sec stuck in a snow bank, while Pietarinen dropped almost 4min after a roll that left his Skoda without a windscreen.
Despite concerns about his Citroën’s handling, Østberg emerged from SS3 the new leader. And when closest rival Gus Greensmith beached his Fiesta on a snowbank in SS5, Østberg was more than two minutes in front.
An ongoing brake issue meant he lost some of that cushion to a resurgent Rovanperä in the afternoon, but Østberg rounded off the leg with a flourish, going fifth fastest overall in SS8. Greensmith ended the leg third, 1m06sec behind Rovanperä, with Pietarinen almost three minutes further back in fourth.
Norwegians claimed a clean sweep of the WRC 2 classes, as Ole Christian Veiby headed the privateer category in a VW Polo GTi.
Veiby, a WRC 2 podium finisher in Sweden for the last two years, ended Friday with a 24.5sec advantage over team-mate and fellow Polo driver, Johan Kristoffersson of Sweden.
Jari Huttunen is 3.8sec adrift in third, having recovered well from a puncture in SS4 that cost him 30 seconds. Huttunen’s finest moment came on the day’s final test, when he claimed fastest time overall in his Skoda Fabia.
Emil Lindholm remains in podium contention 28.6sec back in fourth, with Emil Bergkvist fifth and Nikolay Gryazin sixth.