Ogier went into the event ending Power Stage trailing Mikkelsen by 3 seconds and the Norwegian looked like he had the edge until he touched a snow bank and went off. That cost him 30 seconds, as well as what would have been his maiden WRC win.
“I did everything I could in there,” Ogier told the official WRC site at the finish of the 15.87km Varmullsasen 2 test.
“This is a crazy one! I had to push and went flat-out.”
“What a win!” Ogier added after news of Mikkelsen’s error came in. “I’m really, really proud of this one. I was faster that everybody this weekend but my starting position was so bad. It is an incredible finish to an incredible rally.
“It is a happy ending.”
Ogier led from SS2 on Friday, winning three of the four tests on the opening loop, to build a 9.1s lead. However, the repeats did not go well and when he went off in SS9 and lost around 30s, he dropped back to fourth.
On Saturday morning, the Frenchman closed back up, thanks to three more stage wins and a spin by Mikkelsen in SS14, which left the two split by just 1.7s. Again though, he lost out on the second runs and was hindered by his road position. That allowed Neuville to steal the limelight and after saving two fresh tyres for SS18, it was the Belgian that concluded day two on top, 1.5s up on Mikkelsen and 9.6s up on Ogier.
Intercom problems in the first test on Sunday though dropped the Hyundai driver back and when Mikkelsen spun in SS21, Ogier finished up back on top, taking the victory and the Power Stage win.
“We gave it all in this last one, but we cut a bank and got stuck,” Mikkelsen lamented. “We tried, that is the main thing. Hopefully we will have more luck next time.”
Meanwhile, Neuville ended up splitting the two Volkswagen’s, finishing 6.4s off Ogier and 33.4s up on Mikkelsen.
“I was at the maximum [in that final test]. I took some big risks,” Neuville commented. “Everything went well this weekend though and I am very happy. It is a bit of a wake-up call for the team and hopefully I can be in this position more often now.”
Behind, M-Sport’s Ott Tanak was fourth, more than 1.5 minutes further back, after a calculated drive in his Fiesta RS WRC.
“I am really happy. We struggled a bit at the beginning of the rally, but we finished in quite a strong position in the end,” Tanak remarked. “It is good for the future. If we have a couple more rallies like this, we can then push a bit more.”
Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon rounded out the top six, while Elfyn Evans hung on to beat Kris Meeke to seventh after the Ulsterman spun and lost about 10-15s in SS21.
”I lost fourth gear and the rear came out and touched the snow bank and spun me around,” Meeke explained. “An unfortunate mistake but that is how it is.”
“It has been eventful and frustrating at times,” Evans added, “but I am happy with my performance and progress. We can be fairly pleased.”
Martin Prokop was next up in P8, the Ford privateer losing two places on the final day after “huge moment” in SS20 that cost him 20-30s.
Yuriy Protasov and Mads Ostberg were ninth and tenth, the latter slipping from fourth to P10 in his DS3 WRC after going off and getting stuck in a snow bank in the opening test on Sunday. He lost 5 minutes as a result, later confirming it was due to a handbrake problem.
“We did a good stage [at the end],” said Ostberg, who was third in the Power Stage, “and for the first time in the whole rally the car is working as it should. I am happy with that but it is disappointing when you see what could have been.”
Kevin Abbring finished just outside the points in P11 on his debut in a WRC car with Hyundai, while Jari-Matti Latvala was 12th and Henning Solberg 13th, both losing out after offs.
Latvala, who was challenging for the win early on, went off in the penultimate test on Friday and haemorrhaged over 8.5 minutes, while Henning got stuck in a snow bank in the first test on Saturday morning.
Of the rest, Robert Kubica took 20th losing time on Friday afternoon when he had to limp through the stages with front-wheel drive only. He also picked up a 5 minute penalty last night when it was discovered that the turbo on his engine exceeded the maximum permitted boost. The Pole, however, was still pleased with his event.
“It was a good rally for us,” he insisted. “This rally I haven’t done any mistakes. Unfortunately we were not able to finish in the points due to the problem [on Friday], but overall I am happy with my performance.”
In WRC2, Jari Ketomaa led from SS2 onwards, eventually coming through to take the class victory by 32.6 seconds. Eyvind Brynildsen was second with Valeriy Gorban third and Yazeed Al-Rajhi fourth.
Pontus Tidemand – who sensationally won the SSS stage on Thursday night in his Fiesta RRC – fought back to finish fifth after an off in SS7.
In terms of retirements, Michal Solowow was the most notable scalp, succumbing in the penultimate test while running 12th in his Fiesta RS WRC.
The World Rally Championship now heads to Mexico in a few weeks time (March 5-8) for the first gravel test of the season.