LIVE COMMENTARY: RALLY SWEDEN - RALLY SWEDEN
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As it happened: Rally Sweden
By AUTOSPORT staff and Jamie Klein
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Good morning and a very warm welcome to AUTOSPORT Live's coverage of
We're just over 10 minutes away from the start of this morning's loop of stages, commencing with SS2, the 14.76km Torsby test.
The rally kicked off in slightly odd style last night on the Karlstad superspecial, which was topped by WRC-2 runner
The Swede therefore leads the rally heading into SS2 by three tenths from Mads Ostberg and four tenths from Jari-Matti Latvala (pictured).
Check out our full report of Thursday evening's action here:
Tidemand tops opening superspecial
, quickest in shakedown but only seventh fastest on the superspecial, will be first onto this morning's stages as the championship leader, having been the winner on last month's Monte Carlo Rally.
He'll be followed by VW team-mates Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen, then Ostberg, Thierry Neuville, Elfyn Evans, Martin Prokop and Kris Meeke.
One of the main talking points this weekend so far has been the weather, with warmer conditions and a lack of snowfall a potential threat to proceedings on the calendar's only winter rally. DAVID EVANS has the story:
Warm weather a threat in Sweden
Just as Ogier sets the ball rolling for the second day of the rally, here's a quick run-down of the rally positions as they stand heading into SS2:
1) Tidemand 1m32.1s
2) Ostberg +0.3s
3) Latvala +0.4s
4) Neuville +0.6s
5) Mikkelsen +0.7s
6) Tanak +1.0s
7) Ogier +1.1s
8) Kubica +2.0s
Latvala's in the stage as well now, and at 4.5km in, he's level pegging with Ogier.
Last year’s Rally Sweden winner told DAVID EVANS that he has tweaked his 2015 strategy for round two – he will be gunning for victory in Karlstad, unlike round one in Monte Carlo.
“In Monte I was driving a tactical race, I was concentrating on the points not on the big fight for the victory. This rally is different. It’s a high-speed event with gaps a lot closer, which means you can’t start tactically and trying to be safe – or you can be, but you don’t fight for the win. Here I try to win.”
The Norwegian duo of Mikkelsen and Ostberg are into the stage too now, and the next stage will see the pair enter home turf.
Mikkelsen is quicker than his VW team-mates at the first split to the tune of 0.3s, while Latvala is once again matching Ogier at the second split.
Ogier is through, setting a benchmark time of 8m36.6s, but Latvala loses 2.7s to his adversary in the final third of the stage.
"I'm struggling in the slow areas and the junctions - I'm struggling to find the braking point," explains the Finn. "Where it's fast I'm fine, but overall not an easy start. I know I need to improve in the tight sections."
Mikkelsen reaches the flying finish, but he's lost 8.6s despite his slender advantage at the first split - he explains that he hit a hay bale, causing superficial damage to his VW Polo R.
Meanwhile, Ostberg is 3.4s down at the second split, while Neuville is a second down at the opening split.
Like his compatriot Mikkelsen, Ostberg loses a chunk of time towards the end of the stage, going third fastest, 8.0s off the pace, while Neuville in the Hyundai is 9.4s slower than pacesetter Ogier.
"It's a big advantage to be first on the road in this weather," shrugs Ostberg.
M-Sport Ford driver Evans struggled for pace last night, and things haven't got much better for the Welshman on this stage - lacking confidence, he drops 15 seconds to Ogier.
Meeke meanwhile gets through the opening split just half a second down on Ogier, so it would appear the Ulsterman is much more comfortable in these icy conditions.
Here's Meeke, and he slots into third for the stage, dropping seven seconds, with some light damage to the right side of his Citroen DS3 WRC.
Next up we have Henning Solberg, Yuri Protasov, Ott Tanak, Lorenzo Bertelli, Robert Kubica, and the Hyundais of Hayden Paddon and Kevin Abbring.
Here's how the stage times are shaping up so far:
1) Ogier 8m36.6s
2) Latvala +2.7s
3) Meeke +7.0s
4) Ostberg +8.0s
5) Mikkelsen +8.6s
6) Neuville +9.4s
Tanak was only 2.9s down on Ogier at the first split, but he arrives at the flying finish having lost 18.1s with signs of damage to his M-Sport Fiesta.
"There was a really bad mistake in the notes, so I went in too fast," explains the Estonian.
Despite that mishap, if you’re looking for a dark horse on this week’s Rally Sweden, Tanak could be your man, reckons DAVID EVANS. Starting 10th on the road, M-Sport’s Estonian star is reckoned to be ideally placed for today’s snowy Norwegian stages.
“Some stages were really nice during the recce and it can be good to go at the front of the field in some as well,” said Tanak.
“The conditions are changing all of the time. Anyway, whatever the conditions, we have to go flat out from the start – you can’t sleep too long on this event; if you get a big gap, it’s really hard to make it back.”
Asked what was more important to him this week, showing his speed or being at the finish, he replied: “To be at the finish having shown my speed!”
Kubica arrives at the finish with light front-right damage to his Fiesta - plenty of drivers taking liberties with the snow banks this morning, it seems.
The Pole drops 13.3s on that one, slotting him into seventh for the stage.
Paddon completes the stage 14.8s off the pace, while Abbring - making his factory bow in the WRC, deputising for the
injured Dani Sordo
- is nine tenths quicker than the Kiwi at the second split.
But it appears the Dutchman has suffered an off - we'll bring you more when we hear what's happened.
It sounds like Abbring hit a snowbank in what he described as the "Mickey Mouse" section at the end of the stage - his error induced by a fogged-up windscreen.
A shame, since the Hyundai driver was going well until that point. His time loss is 1m44.4s.
So, assuming Tidemand doesn't shock us all again, we can bring you the results from SS2:
1) Ogier 8m36.6s
2) Latvala +2.7s
3) Meeke +7.0s
4) Ostberg +8.0s
5) Mikkelsen +8.6s
6) Neuville +9.4s
7) Kubica +13.3s
8) Paddon +14.8s
And the overall standings:
1) Ogier 10m09.8s
2) Latvala +2.0s
3) Ostberg +7.2s
4) Mikkelsen +8.2s
5) Meeke +8.5s
6) Neuville +8.9s
7) Kubica +14.2s
8) Paddon +17.0s
Now we have the
cars coming through the stage, and the quickest among them so far is Norway's Anders Grondal.
Tidemand meanwhile predictably loses the lead of the rally after his Thursday night heroics - he's 5.4s slower than Grondal, and 35.6s down on new rally leader Ogier.
The secondary class boasts a strong line-up of Scandinavians this weekend, including Eyvind Brynildsen and Jari Ketomaa, who are both up next.
Brynildsen beats compatriot Grondal by 1.7s, but his tenure as fastest WRC-2 man is short-lived, as Ketomaa completes the stage 2.2s quicker.
We're not far away from the start of SS3, the 18.7km Rojden test, but before that goes live, here's AUTOSPORT's breakfast report, courtesy of DAVID EVANS.
"Breakfast this morning included two of these three elements. We went for the bacon: lovely, crispy; scrambled eggs were great. But broccoli, cauliflower and carrots? Really? I’m all for breaking with convention, but vegetables first thing in the morning is just going a bit too far."
Ogier is now on the stage, holding a two second advantage over Latvala for now.
Being first on the road was clearly beneficial on the previous stage, but will that be the case as the cars encounter snowier conditions across the Norwegian border? The Frenchman's rivals will be hoping not.
At the first split, Latvala loses 1.5s to Ogier - not a good omen for the Finn on an event that, by his own admission, he really needs to win.
Some potential good news for Latvala, though, as DAVID EVANS
: "White stuff is definitely falling from the sky mid-way through SS3."
The snow hasn't stopped Latvala from dropping a further half-second to Ogier at the second split.
The Frenchman is through, clocking in at 9m59.4s, and he's happy with the conditions.
A big blow for Latvala, as he drops 5.8s in the stage - the Finn seems to be at a loss as to how he's losing so much ground to his team-mate, saying that he was happy with the car.
Mikkelsen slots into second, 2.2s slower than Ogier but 3.6s up on Latvala. Like Ogier, he's pretty content with the conditions as they are currently.
Next up is Ostberg, then it will be Neuville and Evans, both of whom are on the stage.
In comes Ostberg, who is 4.5s down on Ogier and 2.3s down on fellow Norwegian Mikkelsen - that will costs him at least a place in the overall standings, possibly more depending on how Meeke and Neuville fare.
Neuville comes in slowest so far, 8.2s off the pace, meaning Ostberg's fourth place is safe for now - although fellow works Citroen driver Meeke only has 1.3s to make up to take the place.
Evans drops a further 13.3s to rally leader Ogier, the M-Sport Ford driver confessing to taking a belt-and-braces approach to the rally so far.
"We could have carried much more speed through some parts of the stage, but we're still learning," he says.
Meeke is 2.5s down on Ogier and 1.6s away from Ostberg at the opening split, meaning he's got work to do if he's to take his team-mate's position away.
The Ulsterman stays fifth overall with the fourth best stage time so far, six tenths slower than Ostberg but 3.1s up on Neuville.
"I had a good rhythm, but the snow banks were very high - it was like a wall. I really enjoyed it," says Meeke.
A quick privateer round-up before the next factory driver, Tanak, reaches the end of the stage:
Henning Solberg's the quickest privateer so far, 21.9s off the pace and unhappy with his driving. Prokop was 2.5s slower, with Protasov losing 36.7s to the leaders on that test.
Tanak's now in, but he's 18.1s off the pace, so that's both M-Sport drivers struggling for pace this morning. The Estonian didn't report any specific problems that might account for that time loss.
On the subject of privateers, Lorenzo Bertelli appears to be in trouble - he explains his four-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta RS WRC was running through that stage in front-drive only, costing the Italian nearly two minutes.
The drivers further down the running order are really suffering this morning. Kubica loses 27.9s, having to stop and restart the engine during the stage, while Paddon overshoots a junction, dropping 31.2s to the leaders.
Abbring is the last of the factory men in, understandably taking things relatively steady in his first outing in the Hyundai i20 WRC. He drops 22.7s to Ogier.
Here's what the Dutchman told DAVID EVANS after testing last weekend:
“I did 150 kilometres of testing, but all of that knowledge seems to have gone straight out of my head as the start gets closer!
"It is amazing to be here, fantastic to be here and I’m very grateful to Hyundai for having the confidence in me to give me this chance.”
And with that, here are the leading times from SS3:
1) Ogier 9m59.4s
2) Mikkelsen +2.2s
3) Ostberg +4.5s
4) Meeke +5.1s
5) Latvala +5.8s
6) Neuville +8.2s
7) Evans +13.3s
8) Tanak +18.1s
And the overall standings:
1) Ogier 20m09.2s
2) Latvala +7.8s
3) Mikkelsen +10.4s
4) Ostberg +11.7s
5) Meeke +13.6s
6) Neuville +17.1s
7) Evans +31.9s
8) Tanak +36.1s
The main changes there are
Mikkelsen moving into third
, making it an all-VW podium, and
from seventh to ninth.
news for you - Grondal, third in class prior to the stage, has ground to a halt.
Erstwhile overall leader Tidemand, the next car through, says he saw the Norwegian was off the road, with spectators helping him get back on track.
Incidentally, Tidemand is the quickest WRC-2 runner through the stage so far, followed by Brynildsen, who lost 5.1s to the Swede missing a junction - not the first to have made that mistake today.
Once again, though, it's Ketomaa setting the pace - he's five seconds quicker than Tidemand, extending his class lead to 11.7s.
Grondal meanwhile has made it to the end of the stage, but he's lost over five minutes to Ketomaa after his costly off.
While we wait for the start of SS4, which is about 10 minutes away, here's more from DAVID EVANS on the unusual weather situation in Sweden:
For the first time (although possibly not the first time in living memory) the Hagfors airport runway – on which the service area is located – is completely bone dry and free from ice.
Chairman of the stewards Robert Reid is confident he has the answer to the question of where winter’s gone from the WRC’s winter rally…
“It’s actually a hair-care issue,” reckoned Reid. “The drivers these days are clearly using so many hair-care products that they’re impacting on the weather and creating a micro-climate. It was freezing in Karlstad just before they all arrived for the recce…”
If you're just joining us, here are the main talking points of the morning so far:
Ogier wins both stages
so far to build a lead of 7.8s over Latvala
up to third
with second best time on SS3
* Citroen drivers
Ostberg and Meeke
Ketomaa leads WRC-2
from SS1 overall winner Tidemand
* Conditions remain
warm and dry
, favouring early runners
Ogier has just set off at the start of SS4, the 20.8km Finnskogen test.
Latvala will be hoping that conditions are somewhat closer to the norm for this one, the longest of the day.
It's a good start for Latvala - the Finn goes 1.6s up on Ogier through the first split - perhaps, as the rally delves further into Norway, that conditions are becoming snowier.
Latvala remains a second up on Ogier at the second split, while Mikkelsen drops 0.4s to the reigning champion through the first.
Ogier is through in 11m04.7s, and the snow in his Polo R WRC's grill shows how the conditions have worsened for the rally leader.
"First on the road, you have to push a bit of snow out of the way to make the line," he says.
Here's Latvala - and he's 1.6s up, reducing Ogier's advantage at the head of the field to 6.2s. He admits that his earlier time loss was partly confidence-related, but his improved pace suggests he's already making strides in that department.
Some more splits - Mikkelsen is 2.5s down at the final split, but he's quicker than nearest rival Ostberg, who is 4.0s off Ogier at the second split. Neuville, meanwhile, is 0.6s down at the opening split.
Mikkelsen arrives at the flying finish 4.6s slower than pace-setting team-mate Latvala, but he's 2.4s up on Ostberg, extending his cushion in the battle for third to 3.5s.
Neuville is through, but he's lost 12.1s to Latvala.
"I hit a snowbank, and I lost a few seconds. Apart from that, a good stage," he says.
Evans meanwhile continues to lose time to the leaders as he feels his way into this one, his time on SS4 19.3s slower than Latvala.
At the second split, Meeke is four tenths slower than Citroen team-mate Ostberg, and 5.4s down on Latvala.
Meeke completes the stage, but he's lost a chunk of time in the final sector, enough to drop him behind Neuville overall. All told, he's 30.2s slower than Latvala.
"I spun on the stage, which lost me about 20 seconds. It took me a three-point turn to get going," explains the Ulsterman. "It's a learning curve."
Tanak goes sixth quickest with a time 17 seconds adrift of Latvala's benchmark. The Estonian isn't quite living up to the 'dark horse' status DAVID EVANS alluded to earlier.
Meanwhile, Kubica is 3.6s down on Latvala at the first split.
Kubica is 9.5s down on Latvala at the second split - he could be set to lose some time trying to pass Bertelli's two-wheel drive car on the stage.
At the same stage, Paddon is 14.2 off the pace in the second manufacturer points-scoring Hyundai.
from DAVID EVANS: "On the upside, precipitation is happening. On the downside, it's not white."
Bertelli suffered a spin right at the end of that stage, the Italian dropping another three minutes in his stricken Ford, causing him to baulk Kubica right at the end of the stage.
The Pole comes in seventh quickest, 17.4s off the pace.
Finishing off the factory contingent for this stage, Paddon comes home ninth fastest, 24.5s slower than Latvala, while Abbring is 26.8s off the pace.
Now we can bring you the leading positions from that stage, as Latvala begins a fightback against team-mate Ogier:
1) Latvala 11m03.1s
2) Ogier +1.6s
3) Mikkelsen +4.6s
4) Ostberg +7.0s
5) Neuville +12.1s
6) Tanak +17.1s
7) Kubica +17.4s
8) Evans +19.3s
And overall with one stage remaining of the morning loop:
1) Ogier 31m13.9s
2) Latvala +6.2s
3) Mikkelsen +13.4s
4) Ostberg +17.1s
5) Neuville +27.6s
6) Meeke +42.2s
7) Evans +49.6s
8) Tanak +51.6s
The only mover in the leading positions there is
, who slots
ahead of Meeke
after that spin on SS4.
SS5 is the shortest of the loop, at just 7.1km, and is already underway. We'll bring you an update on WRC-2 proceedings when the dust (or snow) has settled on the morning's running for the World Rally cars.
All three factory Volkswagen drivers are in the stage, with Ogier just about to reach the flying finish.
An explanation from
as to his time loss on the previous stage: "Some small damage from snow bank. Spin in last stage and lacking confidence in car."
Ogier completes the stage, admitting he had trouble getting his Polo R WRC into gear at the start. His time is a 5m26.7s.
Latvala's undone all that hard work from SS4 - he's lost 2.9s to Ogier on that stage.
"The stage before this one was good, but I've been too careful," rues the Finn.
That means Ogier will take a lead of 9.1s over Latvala into the afternoon stages. Meanwhile, Mikkelsen arrives at the flying finish, a whole 6.2s slower than Ogier.
Here comes Ostberg, who gains 1.3s on Mikkelsen in the battle for the final podium spot. The pair are now split by just 2.4s.
A slightly frustrated Neuville, now comfortable in fifth overall after Meeke's error on the last stage, drops 9.2s to rally leader Ogier.
Evans gives away a further 11.9s to Ogier, still building experience on a very unfamiliar surface.
"We haven't found that sweet spot yet. The car feels pretty good, it's all my driving," says the candid Welshman.
Meeke is convinced the earlier runners have a big advantage on this stage. The Citroen driver is sixth quickest so far, 11.8s off the pace.
Prokop, meanwhile, loses another 17.5s and is the slowest car through so far.
Tanak makes it through the stage, 12.9s off the pace and exactly a second slower than Evans.
Protasov sits ninth, dropping 16.7s, while Solberg loses a shade under 20 seconds as the slowest car through so far.
Kubica goes equal sixth quickest along with Meeke, 11.8s off the pace. Just the Hyundais of Paddon and Abbring to come among the factory boys.
Paddon completes the stage a whole 20.3s off the pace, and the New Zealander is clearly not happy with his morning.
"Really struggling with the car, I've got no feeling with it. It's oversteering a lot on the exits," confesses Paddon.
Abbring meanwhile has slightly more to cheer about, slotting into 10th place with a time 5.1s quicker than Paddon, and 15.2s down on Ogier.
Here are the leading results from SS5, as Ogier restores his advantage up front:
1) Ogier 5m26.7s
2) Latvala +2.9s
3) Ostberg +4.9s
4) Mikkelsen +6.2s
5) Neuville +9.2s
6) Meeke/Kubica +11.8s
8) Evans +11.9s
And here's how the overall leaderboard shapes up, with no movers in the top eight this time:
1) Ogier 36m40.6s
2) Latvala +9.1s
3) Mikkelsen +19.6s
4) Ostberg +22.0s
5) Neuville +36.8s
6) Meeke +54.0s
7) Evans +1m01.5s
8) Tanak +1m09.7s
As promised, here's a quick
Ketomaa was quickest again on SS4, extending his class lead over Tidemand to 13.5s. Brynildsen is a further 5.7s back in third, with Fredrik Ahlin and Valeriy Gorban rounding off the top five after Grondal's shunt on SS3.
The WRC-2 runners have made their way through SS5 now, and once again it's Ketomaa setting the pace.
The Finn took class honours by 1.3s from Gorban, extending his advantage overall over Tidemand to 15.6s.
Brynildsen remains third overall, 11.7s behind Tidemand, with Ahlin hanging on to fourth place from Gorban.
The drivers will now regroup, although unable to service their cars, before tackling this afternoon's loop of stages.
The first of those, a second run through the short and fast Kirkenaer test, kicks off in about an hour's time.
In fact, the crews won't be arriving back at service until the conclusion of the day's running, after a second crack at the Karlstad superspecial.
With the World Rally car contingent free of Swedes this year, the locals will certainly be hoping that Tidemand can repeat his heroics of last night.
That concludes this morning's Rally Sweden coverage - our comprehensive report of the opening loop is ready for your viewing pleasure:
Ogier holds early edge over Latvala
Our coverage resumes at around 12.15 UK time, so join us then to see whether Latvala can halt the Ogier steamroller.
Welcome back to AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live for the Friday afternoon leg of Rally Sweden.
The crews have had a
(no service today) and are about to crack into another run at this morning's stages - but in an endearing quirk for Rally Sweden, they do them in the reverse of the earlier order rather than an identical repeat.
So it's the 4.8 miles of Kirkenaer in 10 minutes, then Finnskogen, Rojden and Torsby, as we work our way back through Norway to Sweden ready for tonight's Karlstad superspecial.
This morning the stages on the WRC's snow rally were running annoyingly
short of snow
. There's been a national rally field on those roads while the world championship crews were at regroup, so road conditions might not be much fun this afternoon.
heads onto SS6 and gets the second loop under way. Let's see if Latvala can settle things down and attack his team-mate properly this afternoon.
Ogier's in with a time of 5m42.4s - that's 16s slower than on the first run at the stage and it seems he was driving blind:
"The wipers were blocked in the middle - I couldn't see anything and I had to slow down."
Bit of a chance for Latvala here?
Latvala is 5.8s quicker than Ogier, he slashes his team-mate's lead to just 3.3s. Right, we have a battle!
"It was slippery but completely different than the first time - a lot more difficult to drive," says Latvala.
"There's been soft snow and it was like snowplaning a little bit, the snow is lifting the tyres from the ice and some of the braking feels very difficult."
Mikkelsen will be next through in the third VW. He was 19s off Ogier at the end of the morning and only 2.4s ahead of Ostberg in their fight for third.
Mikkelsen is second quickest, 1.9s slower than Latvala, on this stage so far.
"I'm still fighting with the car and I did some small mistakes where I lost some speed, but I'm happy enough," he reports.
That's enough to edge Mikkelsen a little further clear of Ostberg, who is 2s slower on the stage.
This isn't quite what Ostberg had planned for today. He won last week's Rally Finnskog in Norway, which is a traditional WRC Sweden warm-up, and yesterday was in a bullish mood at the pre-event press conference:
"I feel good enough to do my absolute best and I believe my best is enough to win this rally," he declared.
Long way to go yet, but a podium looks like his best bet so far.
Neuville comes through second fastest so far, 1.1s off Latvala's pace.
The Hyundai went into the afternoon in a bit of no man's land in fifth place, but Neuville took 3s off Ostberg there to get that gap down to 11.8s.
Evans is slowest so far, but only 1.6s off Ogier and he expected that after sliding wide.
A decent fourth fastest from Meeke, who is back to learning mode this week with little snow experience under his belt.
His spin in the morning dropped him to sixth, not far ahead of Evans, Tanak and Kubica.
According to the timing system, top-class rookie Yuriy Protasov just set the fastest time so far by 2.2s over Latvala.
That's either brilliant, or a glitch.
Protasov still fastest it seems... that's quite a turnaround considering the WRC2 graduate was 16s off the pace on the first run at that stage and is only 13th overall, two minutes off the pace.
But fair play to him if that really is his time - a short stage with changeable snow levels is the sort of situation where a random pacesetter is entirely possible.
Kubica comes through third fastest, or second if Protasov's pace isn't real, and that brings him past fellow Ford driver Tanak into eighth overall. Very promising stuff from Kubica.
In case you missed it earlier this week, the ex-Formula 1 driver wrote a column for us about why nothing will convince him that backing off and driving slowly is the right way to learn the WRC. Instead, he's going to "really stamp down on the learning curve":
Kubica column: Forcing the WRC learning process
Hyundai's Kiwi Hayden Paddon hasn't got much experience of snow. Hyundai's newcomer Kevin Abbring hasn't got much experience of World Rally Cars (or snow).
They're both playing it safe and learning, and their Kirkenaer times keep them just outside the overall top 10.
All the World Rally Cars are through, some time has elapsed for corrections and Protasov remains quickest.
So congratulations to the man from Ukraine - he has a WRC stage win. Here's a big picture for a reward:
And with Kubica third, it's a one-three for Pirelli runners too.
Yesterday Latvala speculated that the Pirellis might be the thing to have in the slushy conditions that we've got right now:
"Basically," the Finn told AUTOSPORT, "the Pirelli stud is a little bit bigger than the one we have in the Michelin tyres. Our stud is spikier, but Pirelli's is bigger.
"So, when we have good ice, we are OK and we are getting really good grip. But in the slush, maybe it’s better to have more stud going in and maybe they can be better…”
1 Protasov 5m34.4s
2 Latvala +2.2s
3 Kubica +3.1s
4 Neuville +3.3s
5 Mikkelsen +4.1s
6 Meeke +5.5s
7 Ostberg +6.3s
8 Ogier + 8.0s
2 Latvala +3.3s
3 Mikkelsen +15.7s
4 Ostberg +20.3s
5 Neuville +32.1s
6 Meeke +51.5s
7 Evans +1m03.1s
8 Kubica +1m04.8s
(13 Protasov +1m42.3s)
* Ogier has wiper trouble and
, allowing Latvala to hack his lead down to 3.3s
* WRC rookie Protasov takes
shock stage win
is third quickest and moves up to eighth, on the cusp of being top Ford
* Mikkelsen adds to his advantage over Ostberg in
battle for third
Just two minutes until the next stage, the 12.9 miles of Finnskogen, and we're going to get a sense on these longer stages of exactly what's going on with the
Here's what a fresh-back-from-regroup DAVID EVANS reckons:
"The broad thinking on this afternoon's repeated stages is that Ogier's advantage is likely to be lessened, especially on Rojden and Finnskogen, where the icy surface will be well and truly gone after the whole field has passed through."
's Colin Clark at the SS7 stage end that Ogier's windscreen wiper problem isn't fixed for this one. That a) could be costly and b) is likely to make him a bit tetchy.
Close at the opening splits - Latvala is two tenths faster than Ogier so far.
DAVID EVANS with info on the VW battle up front:
"Latvala admitted he had worked on the car after every one of this morning’s four stages in an effort to find more confidence in the twisty sections.
"Both he and VW team-mate Mikkelsen have struggled in anything but the super-quick stuff that replicated the test road the German team used ahead of the event."
Latvala is continuing to make gains - 1.1s up at the middle split and now 2.3s up at the final one. There's a chance of a lead change here...
Ogier is in, with an 11m06.6s time, and there's damage to the VW's windscreen and bonnet.
Ogier explains that the
bonnet flew up
and smacked the windscreen on the road section heading to the stage as he'd forgotten to fix it down properly after his abortive efforts to fix the wipers.
"No wipers, but on this stage it was no problem, I could see OK. I made another mistake and I broke the windscreen. We did our best once again."
Apologies for predicting he'd be tetchy, his mood about all those dramas was pretty sanguine.
Not quite a change of lead, but Latvala gets Ogier's advantage down to precisely one second!
Latvala with a bit of sympathy for Ogier, a bit of satisfaction at his own performance and some snow/mud/ruts/ice insight:
"I'm a bit lucky that he's having a problem with the wipers, that's not very nice, but I've had two good stages after midday.
"It's not easy, because it's a soft condition now. You have ice, you have gravel in some places, but at the side of the ruts there's a lot of snow and it will be difficult to make time if you're going off the line."
Mikkelsen is second quickest, 2.2s behind Latvala and a tenth faster than Ogier, and now Ostberg takes 1.1s out of his countryman and gets the third place battle going again.
Could be another problem or incident for
- his first split is 19s off the pace.
Very, very close stage so far - Neuville is only fifth quickest, but he's still within 3s of being fastest.
There was a degree of frustration around the Hyundai camp at lunchtime, reports DAVID EVANS, with Thierry Neuville shrugging: "It is what it is… I could go maybe a couple of seconds quicker, but we could also spend more time in the ditch."
His team-mate Hayden Paddon has been lumbered (can you be 'lumbered' with a factory World Rally Car...?) with Dani Sordo’s transmission set-up for Mexico and Argentina – the central and southern American events are paired with this one. The Kiwi’s having to throw the car at corners to get the i20 WRC working.
And Kevin Abbring is discovering just how quickly everything arrives in a World Rally Car – it sounds like it's more of a two-way conversation on most of the stages as he calls pace note changes to Sebastian Marshall.
Evans is 5.6s off the pace and continues to learn cautiously.
It's quite a while before Kubica starts this stage, but he's the man to watch compared to Evans. The Pole has closed to within 1.7s of Evans for seventh overall (and Meeke's problem might elevate both too) so is on the cusp of being top Ford driver.
The timing system is currently suggesting that Henning Solberg is fastest by 6m26s on the splits. This is very, very, very unlikely to be true.
Even more unlikely than Protasov being fastest on the last stage, which
turn out to be true and was a great effort.
Big problems for Meeke, as more splits come in he's lost three minutes and Solberg has passed him on the stage.
Meeke has made it to the stage end, not much damage to the Citroen but a fair amount of snow in it.
Meeke reports that he went into a snow bank after struggling to get the car turned in on the ruts. It was on this stage this morning that he had a high-speed spin.
"I like the stage, I just made a stupid mistake," he reports.
He's dropped 2m56s and that's going to plunge him from sixth overall to about 20th.
No stage win for Protasov this time, but eighth quickest isn't bad either.
"Every time is better, better, better!" he declares.
Possibly trouble for Kubica too - his first split time is 28s off the pace.
We jinxed him by predicting he was about to move into sixth overall, didn't we?
Tanak loses 4s to Evans in the M-Sport battle, saying he made "a little mistake". They're now 7s apart, in the Welshman's favour, in their fight for what is now sixth.
And Kubica definitely won't be part of that as the next split shows him 1m33s off the pace on the stage.
Kubica reaches the finish, and he's lost just over two minutes. No damage or snow on the car, is it mechanical drama?
Kubica reports that it's the differential at fault.
"We have huge noise and front-wheel-drive, so we are just cruising to hopefully finish the day, but it will be a big challenge."
He's going to drop to about 20th (somewhere near Meeke, basically) for now but two-wheel-drive all afternoon is going to hurt with two full-length stages and a superspecial to go.
Meeke and Kubica's delays are going to elevate Paddon and Protasov into the points. It would've been Paddon and Solberg, but Henning lost out to the flying Protasov on that stage.
Abbring has come through safely too in his short-notice Hyundai debut, but he's running among the WRC2 pack at present.
1 Latvala 11m04.3s
2 Ostberg +1.1s
3 Mikkelsen +2.2s
4 Ogier +2.3s
5 Neuville +3.0s
6 Evans +5.6s
2 Latvala +1.0s
3 Mikkelsen +15.6s
4 Ostberg +19.1s
5 Neuville +32.8s
6 Evans +1m06.4s
7 Tanak +1m13.8s
8 Prokop +1m35.4s
9 Paddon +1m42.1s
10 Protasov +1m52.1s
driver Tidemand was leading overall, but he's just lost five minutes at the first split so his hopes of getting back ahead of Jari Ketomaa for the class lead are now pretty bleak too.
damages his windscreen
as bonnet flies up before the stage after he failed to secure it properly while trying in vain to fix wipers
* Latvala slashes Ogier's outright lead to
Meeke goes off
into a snowbank and loses three minutes
loses two minutes with a
* Ostberg bites back at Mikkelsen in the
battle for third
Lovely quick-fire itinerary for this afternoon, just three minutes until the 11.6 miles of Rojden.
It's snowing more too, Ogier could probably do with some windscreen wipers.
, following crews report that Tidemand has stuffed his Ford into a snowbank. He's got going again now.
Ogier completes Rojden, and says the lack of windscreen wipers wasn't great, but it was still manageable. His time is a 10m05.2s and Latvala is a little slower at the final split.
"It's snowing, but still we can see enough," says Ogier.
Mikkelsen is the fastest of the VW trio on the splits at the moment.
Latvala was up on Ogier initially, but he comes through now 1.9s slower than Ogier at the stage finish, so the Frenchman's lead grows to 2.9s again.
Very rapid stuff from Mikkelsen - he reaches the finish 4s faster than Ogier and 6s quicker than Latvala.
At lunchtime the three VWs were covered by 19s, now it's down to just 11s.
Latvala had no specific problems on that stage, incidentally, and said his feeling was actually pretty good. He's not too fussed at the slight loss of time to Ogier.
Mikkelsen is quite amused by his pace on that one. He confesses the snow banks did take some abuse there.
That surge from Mikkelsen has really blown apart the third-place fight too - Ostberg is 12s slower than the VW and has gone from 3s behind to 15s adrift.
Neuville is through safely, but further back in the order
Evans's M-Sport Ford
has stopped on the stage.
Seems that Evans has gone into a snow bank. He had been holding sixth.
Evans makes it to the end of the stage, but he's lost nearly two minutes.
"I couldn't get stopped for a narrow junction and put it on the handbrake hoping we could just bounce off the snow bank, but we got beached," he explains.
Ostberg put some of his time loss down to the actions of a costumed spectator late on the stage.
His delay plus an excellent second-fastest time from Neuville means the Citroen is now only 5s ahead of the Hyundai for fourth.
Prokop also reports "a drunk guy in the road" as he reaches the end of the stage.
Definitely not what you need on a competitive WRC stage, hopefully he can be swiftly contained.
Meeke says he didn't have any issues with the spectator.
"I saw some snowballs being fired across the road, but I can handle snowballs," he says.
It didn't stop him being second fastest, just 0.8s off Mikkelsen as he starts his recovery drive.
A reasonable fifth-fastest time from Tanak puts him sixth overall now. That's three places gained in two stages thanks to the problems for Meeke, Evans and Kubica ahead of him.
Next in will be Kubica. No split times from the RK Ford so can't tell yet how much he's struggling after that differential problem on the last stage.
Paddon passes Kubica on the stage, saying he lost a bit of time in the process even though "Robert pulled over reasonably quickly".
Now Kubica makes it to the finish.
"It's how it is, we cannot do anything about it. I'm just carrying on trying to finish the day," he says, after losing another 2m17s.
1 Mikkelsen 10m01.1s
2 Meeke +0.8s
3 Neuville +3.5s
4 Ogier +4.1s
5 Tanak +4.8s
6 Latvala +6.0s
2 Latvala +2.9s
3 Mikkelsen +11.5s
4 Ostberg +27.1s
5 Neuville +32.2s
6 Tanak +1m14.5s
7 Paddon +1m44.2s
8 Prokop +1m53.4s
9 Solberg +2m12.7s
10 Protasov +2m13.9s
rebuilds his lead
a little, to 2.9s, despite still lacking windscreen wipers
and closes to within 11.5s of the lead
* Ostberg is enraged after being disturbed by a
, falling away from Mikkelsen and finding himself only 5s ahead of Neuville for fourth
* Evans loses two minutes when he gets beached on a
second quickest as he tries to make up ground after going off on the previous stage
Next up is the nine-mile Torsby stage, which was our opener this morning and concludes the main part of the afternoon loop. That starts in about 20 minutes.
There's another run at the Karlstad superspecial to round Friday off, but that's not until 7pm local time (6pm UK).
DAVID EVANS: With top Brit co-driver Seb Marshall present in Sweden alongside Kevin Abbring, Kris Meeke's co-driver Paul Nagle raised the question of when three English-speaking co-drivers had been in factory World Rally Cars?
That would have been in 2003 – when Robert Reid (Richard Burns), Derek Ringer (Colin McRae) and Michael 'Beef' Park (Markko Martin) were all competing at rallying's highest level.
Irishman Nagle said Marshall was a welcome addition: "He's worked really hard to get where he is, a couple of years ago he was co-ordinating for Craig [Breen] and I, but he stuck at it and he's been rewarded.
"He's a great guy and it's good to have him here."
And having provided evidence of his breakfast earlier in the day, DAVID EVANS also gave us a lunch update on his way back from Norway:
"Lunch was hard to find in the Kirkener regroup, but good news came just across the border back into Sweden as the golden arches lit up the afternoon gloom. Chicken nuggets and free wifi – allowing me to impart this culinary update – abound."
Right, time for today's last full-length stage. After a morning that seemed to be hinting at a bit of an Ogier walkover, the top three have got closer and closer all afternoon. Will it be Ogier or Latvala in front heading to Karlstad?
Drama immediately - Latvala's first split is
Mikkelsen also comes through 27s up on Ogier at split one, and at split two Latvala's margin is up to 29s.
Ogier reaches the end of the stage, and there's a lot of snow on that VW...
Ogier explains what's happened:
"We hit a snow bank in a slow corner. It was just a mistake, unfortunately. I braked a bit too late for a junction. I thought it would be OK, but then we went into the bank just a little bit and I got stuck.
"I had to push. Being first on the road, you have to take risks, it's the only way you're going to do anything."
Latvala has stopped
just before the finish of the stage!
Mikkelsen is going to lead... if he makes it through...
Confirmation that Latvala has gone off the road, and he's stuck and stopped!
Mikkelsen is going to come through to finish the stage and lead Rally Sweden.
Mikkelsen has been launched from third to first by his team-mates' mistakes, amazing. He's baffled...
"Jari-Matti I know about because I saw him, but Seb has had a problem as well??
"OK... that makes things interesting!
"It's sad for them as they've done good rallies. But if I know Ogier right, he won't be giving up."
Latvala remains stuck off the road, he's put his VW into a ditch and spectators are trying to get him going again.
Mikkelsen was nearly 40s faster than Ogier on the stage after the champion's mistake, so Mikkelsen is now 26.1s ahead of Ogier.
Ostberg slots into second between them.
Now Neuville pops through with the fastest stage time yet and that thrusts him ahead of Ostberg into second overall!
"It was quite tricky, the darkness started when I was on the startline, but we made it through and I had some nice corners in there.
"The chassis of the car is very good now. It's a shame we don't have the quick-shifting and a better engine - we'd be up in the fight."
Well he's in a pretty good place anyway...
Latvala has got his VW back on the road and made it to the stage finish. The Polo is undamaged but he's lost a lot of time and all hopes of a win this weekend after losing eight minutes:
"It was a long, long straight and a right-hand corner. I came a bit too fast into the corner - I saw grave and expected the grip to be better.
"The rear hit the snow bank and it took the front in. I tried full throttle but I went into the ditch and got the car stuck."
So our rally order right now is:
2 Neuville +19.7s
3 Ostberg +20.6s
4 Ogier +26.1s
Tomorrow is going to be
Prokop has finished the stage, he's been struggling without fourth gear in the last couple of stages but he'll still be on course for points amid everyone else's fondness for snow banks.
Tanak is going to finish the day in fifth place if he keeps everything tidy, then the Paddon, Prokop, Protasov, Solberg crowd will be battling for other top 10 spots, and Evans should be back in t10th already after going off on the last stage.
Meeke may well be back up to around 11th by the time this all shakes out too.
Tanak has made it smoothly through, so an overnight fifth is his unless anything odd happens on the superspecial. He hasn't starred today, but it's still a decent weekend so far.
"We can do better - a lot better - but I think these last two stages were not so bad. I had a bit of a better rhythm and didn't push so much."
Kubica will be limping through next, but he may well be passed on the stage again as his Ford is struggling along in two-wheel-drive mode.
If you're just joining us, perhaps after spotting every WRC fan you know on Twitter going wild in the last few minutes,
Ogier and Latvala both went off
on today's last full-length stage, vaulting Mikkelsen into the lead.
Ogier got going again in fourth, behind Neuville and Ostberg, but Latvala lost eight minutes and is right out of contention.
to the spectators who dug him out of that ditch: "Thank you so, so much guys!"
1 Neuville 8m40.4s
2 Mikkelsen +1.0s
3 Meeke +2.2s
4 Evans +2.3s
5 Tanak +4.1s
6 Paddon +4.3s
2 Neuville +19.7s
3 Ostberg +20.6s
4 Ogier +26.1s
5 Tanak +1m06.1s
6 Paddon +1m36.0s
7 Prokop +1m59.1s
8 Protasov +2m11.8s
9 Solberg +2m17.8s
10 Evans +2m47.4s
Well, that was eventful...
Ogier goes off
and loses half a minute, which should put Latvala into the lead...
Latvala goes off
and loses eight minutes...
* ...which puts
Mikkelsen into the lead
Neuville is quickest
and moves into what becomes second place, ahead of Ostberg and Ogier
Tanak and Paddon
pop into the top six
There's still a short evening superspecial in Karlstad to come in a couple of hours - we won't be covering that on AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live, but keep an eye on our news pages for an update after that.
We'll resume our Live coverage from 6.45am UK time tomorrow morning - an early start, but we suspect it's going to be worth it.
Are we about to see an epic
hang on? Is
going to sneak another win as he did in Germany last year? Or will
's dreams come true? Join us tomorrow and Sunday to find out.
Good morning and welcome back to AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live - we're a minute away from the 11.3-mile Fredriksberg stage that kicks off what could be an incredible second day of Rally Sweden.
First onto the stages this morning is Italian privateer and WRC2 graduate Lorenzo Bertelli, who was our only retirement from the top class yesterday and is back under Rally 2.
Then it's current championship order thereafter, so Sebastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen will be through next.
At the first splits, the times are in Mikkelsen's favour - by a tiny amount. He's added three tenths to the gap to Ogier, who is 24.7s off the lead in fourth overall starting the stage.
More good news for Mikkelsen at the next split - he's 3.4s faster there.
Ogier finishes in 10m39.9s, and he's not optimistic. With a decent amount of snow on the stage and only Bertelli ahead of him, the world champion says he's just sweeping the road.
"There's no chance, there's so much snow. Like yesterday - same approach, do as much as we can, but it's difficult."
Mikkelsen is only two cars further back in the start order, but Ogier reckons "that's enough to keep the gap."
Latvala is at the finish 2s faster than Ogier. After his eight minutes in a ditch yesterday, the Finn is only 23rd overall.
"Getting a top 10 would be really good. But it's not going to be easy - we are eight and a half minutes behind... We'll try to keep focus and a good rhythm."
There's a huge fight for second between Neuville and Ogier to watch too, and on the splits the Citroen is coming back at the Hyundai.
Mikkelsen is in and he's 6s faster than Ogier! He doesn't think stage conditions are particularly excellent for him either.
"This one was a little bit loose, very slippery in places, but we're trying. We were not on the limit everywhere, there's definitely room for improvement, but it's a good start."
Trouble for Ostberg! After that strong start to the stage, he comes in with left-rear tyre damage and he's 46s slower than Mikkelsen.
"I touched a bank on a corner exit and we have a puncture, and I think we've destroyed more than that," says Ostberg.
That's a huge blow for our overnight third-place man, and immediately gives Ogier a place back.
He heads off to check for further damage.
Neuville is at the finish, he loses 7s to Mikkelsen but only a second to Ogier as they fight for second.
Hyundai is the only top team to take two spare tyres this morning. That adds a weight penalty but also means he has more fresh rubber to change to later on what is a four-stage loop.
After some internet-less minutes, we're back in business, apologies for that.
The main action you missed was a shunt for Henning Solberg. The WRC's remaining Solberg sibling (though Petter's out on the historic rally) lost five minutes in a snow bank, dropping him back from his overnight ninth place and letting Kris Meeke back into the top 10.
1 Mikkelsen 10m33.9s
2 Latvala +3.1s
3 Ogier +6.0s
4 Meeke +7.7s
5 Neuville +8.2s
6 Kubica +9.7s
2 Neuville +27.3s
3 Ogier +30.7s
4 Ostberg +1m05.9s
5 Tanak +1m19.0s
6 Paddon +2m03.2s
7 Prokop +2m16.5s
8 Protasov +2m38.1s
9 Evans +3m09.9s
10 Meeke +3m39.0s
* Mikkelsen extends his overall lead to 27.3s
* Ostberg hits a snow bank and gets a puncture, losing 46s and falling to fourth
* Ogier moves up to third but loses another 6s to Mikkelsen
* Solberg loses five minutes in a snow bank and drops out of the points
Solberg's delay nearly let Hyundai's debutant Kevin Abbring into the top 10, but Meeke's strong pace on that stage inched him ahead of the Dutchman in the overall standings by eight tenths.
We're onto the 14-mile Rammen stage now. With the start order being Bertelli-Ogier-Latvala-Mikkelsen, it takes a little while for any truly informative splits to come through as Bertelli and Latvala aren't relevant to the overall fight. But for the record, Ogier is faster than Bertelli.
DAVID EVANS has been hearing from the VW drivers already this morning:
Spoke to Andreas at first service this morning and he said: "We have to push hard, we have to be on it from the first stage this morning.
"We can't give Seb anything; we can't give him four seconds here or five seconds there - that only gives him fuel. We need to stop him!"
Ogier's primary concern centred on the warming conditions and what that would do to the surface of the road. The only man ahead of him is Lorenzo Bertelli - and it's fair to say the Italian's lines are a little different to those followed by the world champion.
Team principal Jost Capito was as excited as anybody about the day ahead. "Anything can happen today..."
Ogier is in now with an 11m36.5s, and a more
than earlier this morning:
"This one was better. On the first one there was a lot of fresh snow. This one was more flat. Less snow on the surface, better for us. I guess that we're going to lose less."
Latvala comes in 1.3s slower than Ogier, but the time we want to see is Mikkelsen and
he's lost 8s
to his chasing team-mate!
Mikkelsen admits he made a small mistake near the end of that stage. That brings the gap back to Ogier down to 22s.
"Not such a good stage. We were in a ditch a bit and we filled the front with snow, just near the end. We'll try to attack hard on the stages that are coming up now."
Ogier is likely to move up to second on this stage, he's comfortably faster than Neuville on the splits so far.
Ostberg comes through and confirms that his Citroen has no further damage from his brush with a snow bank on the previous stage. He's back on the pace, but the podium is now some distance away.
DAVID EVANS: Small snippet about Rammen - it was the fastest stage of last year's rally, with an average of 77mph!
Neuville is in and he's 11s slower than Ogier, so he's fallen from second to third overall.
It's a pretty unhappy Belgian talking at the end of the stage now, but his grimace is basically down to the fact he's in a Hyundai not a VW:
"I'm flat-out everywhere and when I see the time it's just frustrating," says Neuville.
"I'm over the limit everywhere. I'm in a good position and I want to fight... I honestly couldn't do more."
Neuville is now 7.9s behind Ogier in third place, while Ogier has got Mikkelsen's lead down to 22.7s. Neuville still has a 32.8s cushion back to fourth-placed Ostberg for now.
Elfyn Evans is next in, and after an SS11 run that he describes as "fairly horrendous", he's a bit happier with his performance on Rammen.
After a trip off the road yesterday, the M-Sport driver's current mission is to chase down the half-minute gap to stablemate Yuriy Protasov in eighth.
Meeke says being in his position on the running order is tricky today as by the time he comes through, a lot of the fresh snow from the banks has been brushed back onto the road by drivers ahead.
The Citroen driver is now pursuing Evans for ninth, but he's 1.4s slower than the Welshman here so the gap remains half a minute.
Tanak is the next frontrunner through, he's sixth fastest and loses 9s to Ostberg - who had dropped in just in front of him in fourth overall after his earlier puncture. Doesn't look like the M-Sport Ford will be starting a battle with the Citroen on that pace.
Tanak's happy enough, though. A solid fifth place would be a very respectable result for him early in his return to the WRC's top level.
Kubica is our next car. After the propshaft problem that delayed him yesterday, he's 21st overall and eight minutes off the lead.
But Rally Sweden does tend to see a bit of attrition, and in three of the last four years it's been possible to still score points with an eight-minute deficit.
He's sixth fastest, which is a good effort, and says it was like doing this stage for the first time as he was far too slow and cautious on it in 2014.
As he said
in his AUTOSPORT column
earlier this week, Kubica is adamant that flat-out is the only way to learn.
Good morning to us from a WRC legend, thanks
"Good morning to my friends @autosport and @mattofautosport - great Race Centre Live coverage on autosport.com!"
Just a quick stadium stage next up - the 1.2 miles of the Hagfors Sprint. Bertelli is already onto it.
Ogier swiftly topples Bertelli with a time 4.1s faster.
After gaining 8s on his ditch-visiting, rally-leading VW team-mate Mikkelsen on Rammen and moving up to second overall, Ogier is in a determined mood, immediately answering "yes!" when asked if he still thinks victory is in.
"We know that we are not in the best position, but you never know."
Ogier stays fastest as Latvala comes in 1.6s slower.
Latvala is now back up to 19th overall and closing on fellow delayed frontrunner Kubica for 18th.
The Finn puts the deficit to Ogier on Hagfors down to a wrong gear choice at an early corner.
Mikkelsen is through, and he loses another 1.9s to Ogier even on this short stage - the overall gap is down to 20.8s.
He's yet to win in the WRC, he's got his double world champion team-mate chasing him and closing, but Mikkelsen is pretty calm:
"It's been an OK start to the morning. The first stage was good, the second stage I did a mistake.
"We will try to fight as hard as we can, keep the gap and keep the first place.
"I'm trying not to think too much about it - just do the best job I can stage by stage, and then we'll see at the end of the day and the end of rally."
Ostberg is our slowest man through Hagfors so far, 2.5s off pacesetter Ogier.
But the battle for Ostberg is still with Neuville. He's just over half a minute behind the Hyundai following his mistake on today's opener, but very positive about his chances of getting third place back.
Neuville matches Ostberg on this short stage, so they stay 32.8s apart.
The Hyundai driver is the only frontrunner carrying two spare wheels this morning. He's now regretting that choice, given how much time he feels the extra weight has cost him in faster sections.
But the pay-off could come on the final stage of the loop - Vargasen, which is about half an hour away - where Neuville can have two fresh tyres to play with while rivals only get one.
Problem for Protasov, who's spun his Ford on the stage. He's got out of the snow bank and got going again, but that was a scare for the man currently holding eighth overall.
That cost Protasov about half a minute, and means he loses eighth place to Evans.
Tanak comes through still in fifth overall. Being so far down the running order (due to his lowly finish in Monte Carlo) means he's finding stages that are "messed up" by the cars ahead, and he's just trying to keep it tidy.
This little stage does sometimes get a surprise winner - Martin Prokop has been fastest here before, and Henning Solberg set the pace on the first run last year. But it's a sign of Ogier's determination to get back on Mikkelsen's tail that it looks like Hagfors Sprint 1 will go to the world champion in 2015.
1 Ogier 1m51.2s
2 Latvala +1.6s
3 Mikkelsen +1.9s
4 Neuville +2.5s
5 Ostberg +2.5s
6 Kubica +3.5s
2 Ogier +20.8s
3 Neuville +31.2s
4 Ostberg +1m04.0s
5 Tanak +1m29.0s
6 Paddon +2m21.3s
7 Prokop +2m35.4s
8 Evans +3m21.7s
9 Protasov +3m33.9s
10 Meeke +3m51.0s
It's just passed 9am UK time and it's a weekend, so we suspect a few of you haven't been with us since the very start at 6.45am this morning, so here's a quick recap of the main events on today's first three stages:
Ogier begins recovery
- up from fourth to second and now within 20s of
* Ostberg drops to fourth when he hits a snow bank and
gets a puncture
dropping away from Ogier in third and keen to protect half-minute gap to recovering Ostberg
Latvala and Kubica
setting good times as they make progress from the foot of the top 20
And here's a weather/conditions update from our man in a heap of snow, DAVID EVANS:
In an effort to demonstrate how much snow is out on the stages today, AUTOSPORT has taken the scientific approach by digging a hole down to the grass and putting our foot in it.
It comes up to the knee. Which is about 30cm, or is that 30 inches? It’s about the height of five iPhones. Does that help?
(Endearingly, that image arrived at the newsdesk with the file name 'knee')
Also, we're going to request snow and sunshine icons from our design and tech desk for the next generation of AUTOSPORT Live (some very exciting upgrades in the pipeline for AUTOSPORT.com in the future...)
Vargasen is beginning now - at 15.3 miles it's the longest of the rally. That's not exactly a Safari-length epic, of course, but there's a lot to be said for Sweden's short, sharp, fast stages and quick-fire itinerary.
This stage includes the famous
jump - named in honour of Colin McRae's high-flying antics at that spot.
There's an extra prize for the driver to leap furthest, and last year that was won by then-Hyundai driver Juho Hanninen's 36-metre effort.
No sign of Hanninen this year - he's lost his Hyundai place and his efforts to raise the budget for a one-off in Sweden didn't succeed.
Ogier is comfortably faster, as expected, than first-on-the-road Bertelli, but we haven't got any times in from Mikkelsen yet to see how the battle we're really interested in is unfolding.
More drama for Latvala on this stage - he's spun backwards off the road.
Latvala has got himself out of his second ditch of the weekend and is running again, but now Bertelli has stopped.
That wasn't too costly for Latvala, he's 43s down on Ogier at the next split. Could've been worse, and he's outside the top 15 anyway.
16s slower than Ogier
at the splits - that's going to make things very, very close for the lead!
Ogier completes the stage with a time of 13m34.1s.
Mikkelsen is 17.3s down on Ogier at the next split...
And Ogier has just been informed of that at the stage end.
"That's better than I thought, because this was not the stage for me," says Ogier, who says he was "doing snowploughing".
Ogier also reports that Bertelli is on a snow bank and "will need a lot of spectators" to get him back on the road.
Inexperienced Italian Bertelli had said earlier that running first on the road wasn't a problem for him because of the amount of loose snow, more because he didn't have the lines of the top drivers to follow.
Ostberg is right on Ogier's pace at the first split as he tries to chase down Neuville for third.
Latvala finishes the stage, and his time loss to Ogier is 48s.
Plenty of snow packed into the front of Latvala's VW from his latest excursion.
Here's Latvala's description of his incident:
"We spun and got a little bit stuck on a snow bank."
Not quite up to Latvala's usual standards of detailed recounting!
Mikkelsen is 19.6s down on Ogier at the final split and his lead was 20.8s...
Mikkelsen finishes the stage and his lead is down to just 1.8s!
"I had a spin and it was so narrow I had to turn around," Mikkelsen explains.
"I was a bit unlucky, I just touched the bank a little bit and it spun me.
"It's going to be tough this afternoon but we will give it everything. I tried to go really fast on this stage, and I made a mistake. OK, we're definitely not giving up."
Ostberg completes the stage second fastest, 6s down on Ogier.
But on the splits, Neuville (who was
over Colin's Crest - mega in terms of looking brilliantly spectacular) was actually a touch faster than the chasing Citroen.
Next split time from Neuville is in, and he's only nine tenths off Ogier's flying pace - and 2.4s better than Ostberg had managed up to that point.
Good news for Neuville's bid to retain third, and Mikkelsen's mistake is going to bring him a fair chunk closer to first overall too.
Neuville is in, he's only 0.3s slower than Ogier and that means he adds 6s to his cushion over Ostberg - bringing the third-to-fourth gap up to nearly 40s again.
That time changes Neuville's mood from 'really frustrated' to 'thoughtfully neutral':
"Yeah, this one was quite good. I tried to look for traction off the line, in some places braking was tough on the line, so I could push hard."
Neuville is now just 12.4s behind leader Mikkelsen too, as well as being 38.8s clear of Ostberg.
Evans is safely through the stage, slowest so far. No dramas, he's just not hugely happy with his driving this morning. It'll keep him eighth overall.
Meeke comes in third fastest behind Ogier and Neuville, 3s off the pace. The Citroen man has a good shot at getting ahead of Protasov for ninth on this one, and closing in on Evans's eighth too.
Latest cars in have been Prokop (all smooth for him), Solberg (grappling with gearshift problems) and Protasov (still kicking himself a bit for that spin on the short stage).
Next through will be Tanak and Kubica.
Tanak is fifth quickest, 17s off Ogier's pace. He's having a respectable morning - though keeping up with Ostberg in fourth isn't proving doable, he's nearly a minute clear of the pack behind and looking good for a top five result. That's the sort of thing that pleases M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson.
Only ninth-quickest for Kubica on this one, not his best of the morning.
He's 18th overall at present, and was coming under a bit of pressure from Latvala earlier so the Finn's spin is handy for him.
"It was OK, nothing spectacular for us," says Kubica. "It's really my first time through this stage because last year it was very bad and very slow.
"Many corners could be flat, but when you are approaching them for the first time, you need experience to know that. This is what we are here for - to learn as much as we can."
1 Ogier 13m34.1s
2 Neuville +0.3s
3 Meeke +3.3s
4 Ostberg +6.3s
5 Tanak +17.1s
6 Mikkelsen +19.1s
2 Ogier +1.7s
3 Neuville +12.4s
4 Ostberg +51.2s
5 Tanak +1m27.0s
6 Paddon +2m23.4s
And his lead over Ogier comes down from 20.8s to
also closes to within 12.4s of lead
goes third quickest and passes Protasov for ninth
spins into a ditch
again but loses under a minute
If you want a more detailed recap of everything that's happened this morning, here's what you're looking for:
Rally Sweden Saturday morning report
We'll be back two hours from now for full live coverage of the afternoon loop, which is an exact repeat of the morning route.
Many people will be heading to see the cars in service, or getting some lunch, or they might be doing the same as this bloke DAVID EVANS encountered earlier:
"Spectators in Sweden are a hardy bunch. Essentially, this fella's just lying in a field. Maybe he was, er, tired…"
Wake him up in time for SS15. See you then.
Welcome back to AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live - Mikkelsen vs Ogier is beginning again as the Fredriksberg stage kicks off Saturday afternoon's four-stage loop.
And now Ogier is back to his least favourite position of first on the road, thanks to Bertelli putting his Ford off the road on the last stage before service.
But with the whole field having tackled these stages once already today, will the loose snow be cleared already and will road position count for much less? Let's see...
Mikkelsen is slightly faster than Ogier at the opening splits - which is exactly what he needs to get that 1.7s lead a bit more comfortable.
The Norwegian's advantage over Ogier got as high as 30s after this stage this morning, only to shrink to nothing when Mikkelsen made mistakes on two of the following three stages.
This was the only stage earlier where running first (well, second) on the road was really problematic for Ogier though, so it might be deceptive.
Mikkelsen is third in the start order, separated from Ogier by Latvala, who remains 19th overall.
Ogier's in, and on the splits we've got so far he's a couple of seconds down on Mikkelsen - but he fears it's going to get worse than that.
"If I lose 10 seconds, I will not be surprised. It was really, really bad. The lines are completely wrong from the two-wheel-drive [cars that have been through since this morning].
"I couldn't have done better - my rear was never touching any grip. It was so loose.
"I hope on the next one I can have a bit more fun."
Sure enough, Mikkelsen is 6s quicker than Ogier at the next split.
Latvala completes the stage 3.8s faster than Ogier's benchmark.
"Very slippery - I think the most slippery stage I've done on this rally so far," says J-ML.
"The line was very narrow and there was a lot of loose snow on the side.
"Very demanding, it will be interesting to see how the boys do behind."
Mikkelsen completes the stage
10.9s quicker than Ogier
- the lead is up to 12.6s again!
"We pushed very hard," declares Mikkelsen. "I think the conditions are helping me a bit, but I still think it's a good time.
"We just need to keep going and push hard. We have a big job to do."
This is a three-way fight -
Neuville is on Mikkelsen's pace
on the splits and that's going to put the Hyundai right back on Ogier for second place!
Neuville started this stage 10.7s behind second-placed Ogier, and at the mid-point split he's 7.7s faster than the world champion.
This is a brilliant, brilliant performance from the Hyundai man, who's not exactly a veteran on snow.
Neuville completes the stage 3s faster than Mikkelsen and
retakes second from Ogier!
The Hyundai is now 8.7s behind leader Mikkelsen.
And as usual, Neuville just made that all sound very routine and like it hadn't been the most thrilling thing he'd done today.
"I pushed very hard, sometimes a bit too much, so at the end I got a bit smoother, had a cleaner run. And the time is good."
Good... Thierry, it's brilliant. And we have a three-way battle for Rally Sweden victory.
Also flying: Elfyn Evans. The Welshman is third-fastest, only 4s slower than Neuville.
Now this does suggest that road conditions are getting better and better for those further down the start order, with Meeke now taking third on the stage times, and Protasov setting some very rapid times.
Neuville's still having an outstanding rally, though.
Just to reiterate, here's what the lead battle looks like now:
2 Neuville +8.7s
3 Ogier +12.6s
Prokop has completed and suggested the conditions are pretty rubbish even for those further down the road, while Solberg is a bit happier having cured the gearshift issue that's interfered with quite a few of his stages.
After matching Neuville on the first split, Protasov drifts away to being 11s down as he reaches the finish.
Drivers don't get split times beamed into their cars anymore, so Protasov doesn't realise quite how good his early pace was until he's told at the stage. His English is still developing but that news prompts plenty of giggles and a lot of "good!"
Odd, maybe even slightly dull, day for Tanak. He's not in a battle with anyone at all, he's holding a safe fifth place, he's keeping his pace consistent, and he's down in 11th in the start order so he sort of surprises you when he turns up and reminds you that he's in the overall top five.
Kubica slots in sixth quickest on the stage - which has been a pretty regular place for him today. He's 7s off Neuville's pace.
If it hadn't been for that propshaft breaking yesterday, Kubica would basically be where Tanak is right now.
Paddon is a couple of seconds slower than Prokop, who he's battling for sixth overall. The Hyundai is now only 10s ahead of the Czech privateer's Ford.
Abbring completes our WRC field. He's running a solid 11th overall on his debut for Hyundai, which came a bit earlier than planned after
Dani Sordo fell off his bicycle
1 Neuville 10m27.6s
2 Mikkelsen +3.7s
3 Meeke +3.8s
4 Evans +4.3s
5 Tanak +5.1s
6 Kubica +6.9s
(13 Ogier +14.6s)
2 Neuville +8.7s
3 Ogier +12.6s
4 Ostberg +59.0s
5 Tanak +1m28.4s
6 Paddon +2m31.7s
Lovely back-to-back stages today, we're immediately onto the 14 miles of Rammen. That starts in seven minutes.
with being first on the road and falls 12.6s behind leader Mikkelsen
wins the stage, takes second from Ogier and closes to within 8.7s of Mikkelsen
Meeke and Evans
third and fourth quickest as their comebacks continue
DAVID EVANS spots some cosy attention to detail from the champion team:
Volkswagen's drivers were issued with these furry numbers to keep their feet warm between stages. Nothing worse than cold feet…
Avid AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live reader
and his co-driving wife Pernilla have notched up another win on the Historic section of Rally Sweden in their Ford Escort MkII - congratulations Petter!
Rammen is under way, incidentally, and the first splits are coming in, with Mikkelsen 1.4s faster than Ogier so far.
Ogier is through with a time of 11m42.5s. How was being first on the road that time?
"A bit better but still not great. It's better to say 'not that bad'."
The split times match Ogier's thoughts - Mikkelsen is 1.7s faster than him at the mid-point, which isn't as dramatic as it was on the previous stage, but it's still not going in the direction the champion wants.
Latvala reaches the finish eight tenths faster than Ogier, and then gives us a nice detailed description of the snow level:
"You have gravel, which is giving you some grip, but then on the side of the gravel part you have soft snow and slush. It's really hard to keep the car on the line."
Mikkelsen clocks in at the final split 3.1s up on Ogier's time.
Mikkelsen loses time in the final miles though - he finishes the stage 2.2s slower than Ogier! Where did that 5s go?
Nothing too dramatic, Mikkelsen finishes the stage laughing at himself.
"Every year, I get something wrong at the last split of this one," he says.
"At two junctions I went a little bit too deep and had no speed out."
Now can Neuville capitalise on that? He was 0.3s slower than Mikkelsen on the early splits, but if he stays tidy at the end, that 8s gap between them on the overall leaderboard could be shrinking...
Now Ostberg grabs the fastest time on the stage, finishing 1.5s quicker than Latvala's mark.
Switching his brain off and going for it seemed to be the key for Ostberg there:
"Every place I'm trying to be clever, I'm slow. It's just not working. I'm going to stop trying to be clever."
Neuville is 1.2s up on Mikkelsen at the final split, and it's in the miles that followed that Mikkelsen really dropped time to Ogier...
Neuville's run to the finish isn't too sparkling either and Ostberg remains our stage leader, but Neuville has taken another 2s off Mikkelsen, getting him to within 6s of the lead!
Neuville admits he too made mistakes at two corners near the finish, nearly getting stuck in a snow bank. He reckons that cost him 3s.
Here's how our top four is looking overall:
2 Neuville +6.7s
3 Ogier +10.4s
4 Ostberg +54.5s
Fastest time now goes to Meeke, and that brings him within 7s of Evans for eighth overall.
Modest stuff from Meeke, who doesn't have any qualms about admitting that being seventh on the road is a decent spot for setting fast times this afternoon:
"The road's getting quicker and quicker, quite simple. I have an advantage over the guys in front.
"I'm just trying to drive my rally in a good rhythm, so I'm happy."
Tanak is now the fastest man of all at the first split, but he's tailing off a little bit further on. Looking good for a Meeke stage win at present.
Tyre concern for Kubica, he says he's overheating the rubber and losing studs from the Pirellis. The time loss isn't dramatic, but he's in the Prokop/Protasov area of the timing screens on this stage rather than the Tanak/Evans region.
Paddon came under threat from Prokop for sixth overall on the last stage. He's responded firmly - a much quicker time on Rammen pulls their gap up from 10s to 20s.
Abbring has stopped on the stage in the third Hyundai.
The Dutchman is parked less than a mile from the stage finish.
Nothing too dramatic for Abbring, he gets himself out of the snow bank and makes it to the end. Still waiting for a time, but he reckons he dropped about a minute.
1 Meeke 11m38.5s
2 Ostberg +1.7s
3 Latvala +3.2s
4 Tanak +3.3s
5 Ogier +4.0s
6 Neuville +4.2s
7 Evans +4.4s
8 Mikkelsen +6.2s
2 Neuville +6.7s
3 Ogier +10.4s
4 Ostberg +54.5s
5 Tanak +1m25.5s
6 Paddon +2m33.8s
7 Prokop +2m53.9s
8 Evans +3m21.9s
9 Meeke +3m29.1s
10 Protasov +4m08.6s
* Mistakes in the final miles mean leader Mikkelsen's gap to Neuville and Ogier
shrinks a little
* Meeke takes his
first stage win on snow
as he closes on Evans for eighth overall
Abbring goes off
and loses 1m45s, dropping him away from the cusp of the points
And we're immediately back in action on the Hagfors Sprint - just 1.2 miles but when you've got a top three covered by just 10s, 1.2 miles matter.
Just 1m59.1s of rallying for Ogier to complete Hagfors, but he still reckons that was enough running to lose time to Mikkelsen and Neuville.
"I still think I can lose 5s because it's terrible to be first on the road there. It was like a ski slope."
His main complaint is the Historic rally sharing the stages and messing up the lines, a bit of scheduling he reckons is "stupid" - though he does add that it's "good for the fans, just bad for racing."
Ogier is still fastest for now, as Latvala comes in seven tenths down.
Mikkelsen will be next up, then Ostberg, then Neuville.
Not as bad as Ogier feared, Mikkelsen is only six tenths faster than him, so the gap from first to third on the leaderboard is 11s.
Neuville is six tenths slower than Mikkelsen on Hagfors, so the Norwegian's lead is back up to 7.3s.
The Hyundai man says he's saving his best tyre options for the upcoming Vargasen stage again, so he can do the day's longest stage with fresh fronts. That's going to be interesting...
Neuville's performance is pleasing his sportscar star compatriot
"Looks like @thierryneuville is on a run at @RallySweden @OfficialWRC ! #GoBelgium"
So when Ogier complains that the Historic runners are spoiling the stages, he's basically pointing at Petter Solberg, who just scored a third successive Rally Sweden Historic win in his Ford Escort. More detail from DAVID EVANS:
The 2003 World Rally champion led Tom Axelsson home by more than three minutes after the eight-stage, 80-mile event. Axelsson was driving an Audi Quattro A1, a car never really designed for rallying…
Solberg said: "It's fantastic to come here and compete in front of so many people and it was really nice for me to drive at home yesterday. Winning three is really nice and taking Colin's Crest flat out was a fantastic way to finish the event!"
Meanwhile back in the modern event, Meeke has just set the fastest time on Hagfors. Back to back stage wins for Meeke...?
Nope, Meeke's going to have to wait for his second stage win on snow - Tanak pips him by a tenth of a second in the M-Sport Ford.
Tanak's still running fifth, by the way. We have to keep mentioning that because he isn't in a battle with anyone so it's easy to overlook him, but he's having a quietly strong rally.
Tanak's time on top was shortlived, Kubica beats him by 1.2s.
"Ah that's good," says Kubica. "That was quite a good stage, in some places it's coming through to gravel and concrete."
That gains him a position too, as he passes Solberg for 15th overall.
Of the other drivers coming back up the order, Latvala is still going to be 17th unless any of the WRC2 leaders have a really rubbish time on Hagfors, and after his trip off the road on the last stage, Abbring stayed 11th, just a bit closer to Polish privateer Michal Solowow behind him now.
As the last WRC runners come through Hagfors, a quick reminder that it's the day of romance.
The old romantics at M-Sport were out in force at breakfast this morning, with a heart-shaped sweet left at every place setting. AUTOSPORT’s David Evans had to be reminded by Malcolm Wilson to send the good Mrs E a text first thing.
1 Kubica 1m57.1s
2 Tanak +1.2s
3 Protasov +1.3s
4 Meeke +1.3s
5 Mikkelsen +1.4s
6 Ostberg +1.6s
2 Neuville +7.3s
3 Ogier +11.0s
4 Ostberg +54.7s
5 Tanak +1m25.3s
6 Paddon +2m34.4s
Well there's rarely a lot to recap from a 1.2-mile stage, but...
Kubica takes his first stage win
of the weekend and moves up to 15th overall
* Mikkelsen goes
a little faster
than Neuville and Ogier so leads by 7.3s
One more stage to go today, back to the 15 miles of Vargasen to set up the final battle.
Sunday is pretty short, just three nine-mile stages to settle things in the morning. But the running order will be a straight fight, with the WRC field's positions reversed, which ought to put Mikkelsen, Neuville and Ogier in a straight head to head on a pretty clean road.
In other words, this next stage and tomorrow morning are going to be
And it's going to be a very nervous time for those in the thick of it in the teams.
DAVID EVANS joined probably the most apprehensive man in the service park to watch the splits on the second run through Fredriksberg: Andreas Mikkelsen's manager Erik Veiby.
Tension was heightened when his man's second split didn't arrive, but 10.9 quicker than Ogier went down well at the finish.
a little today, but it's still close-ish there too. Jari Ketomaa was dominating for a spell, but his lead over Eyvind Brynildsen is down to 27s now.
Right, Vargasen has begun. Poised for splits and to see just how close Mikkelsen, Neuville and Ogier end this brilliant day of rallying.
Not much information on either the splits or tracking system at the moment - signal from the stages hasn't always been ideal this weekend so not necessarily a sign of trouble for Ogier or anyone else.
Ogier reaches the stage finish in 13m30.3s, while the only other information so far is that Mikkelsen is 0.4s faster than Latvala early on the stage.
"I'm happy with my pace," declares Ogier. "Whatever the time from the others, I have done my best. We pushed.
"The conditions were really bad for us."
Neuville is flying on the early splits - it's going to be close between him and Mikkelsen for the rally lead. They're 7.3s apart starting the stage...
Neuville is 8.5s up on Mikkelsen on the splits now, that will be enough to vault Hyundai into first place if he keeps it up.
Mikkelsen finishes the stage 2.9s slower than Ogier, it's really closing up.
Mikkelsen remains calm: "It looks like Neuville has a different tyre strategy and completely new tyres on the front, so we will see what is going on.
"It was a clean stage for us, and it looks like it's going to be an interesting morning tomorrow."
And amid all that, here's news of a
suspended penalty for Ogier
- which WON'T take effect this weekend but could haunt him later in 2015:
Ogier given suspended penalty
Ostberg is through, but frankly we're looking out for Neuville...
Neuville is through and he
takes the Rally Sweden lead
by 1.5s going into the final morning!
Neuville: "I had a big, big push. I think I made some little mistakes that cost me three or four seconds. But I think that was one of the best stages I have ever done.
"There are some tricky stages tomorrow, but I don't want to slow down now."
This is an absolutely extraordinary drive.
Neuville and Hyundai have won before, in Germany, last year, but that came after shunts for Ogier, Latvala and Meeke when all were well-placed.
This weekend, Neuville has gone head to head with the VWs, made less mistakes (at least so far) and he's leading with three stages to go.
It would be great if Sebastien Loeb came back. It
be great when Toyota turns up again.
But there's no need to pine too much because what the WRC does have right now is a rising star underdog thrusting himself among the champions, and he's got a brand new Hyundai coming later in the season too.
He looked mega in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, he gave us a big hint of what he could do in the M-Sport Ford in 2013, and now as Hyundai improves and he gets ever more established in the team, Neuville is proving that he's the man Ogier has to worry about over the coming years.
And it's quite exciting.
And here's how the leaderboard looks:
2 Mikkelsen +1.5s
3 Ogier +9.6s
Three stages, 45 miles, to settle it all on Sunday morning.
And the Brits are doing well too - Meeke finished that stage second-fastest and reckons only a small mistake stopped him outpacing Neuville, and Evans was fifth fastest.
Evans and Meeke are going to end the day eighth and ninth overall, and not too far behind Paddon and Prokop - so there's
thing to get excited about tomorrow morning.
Prokop just admitted he wasn't entirely concentrating on that stage and should've been thinking about rallying a bit more than he was. He didn't offer any details about exactly what topic his mind had wandered off to, but crikey Martin, focus! You're running seventh on a WRC round with factory/factory-ish cars all around you!
It seems Neuville also set a new record for the famous Colin's Crest jump of 44 metres. He really is having a good day.
says so himself:
"It’s a good day :-) So happy that I also get the record of the Colin’s Crest jump with 44 m"
Kubica finishes the stage, it looks on the splits like he might have had a minor incident somewhere in the middle.
He confirms he did:
"We didn't have anymore tyres, the studs had disappeared and I cut one corner too much and the snow banks pulled me in. I had to reverse twice and lost about 20s."
A good time from Paddon in the Hyundai, he's sixth fastest and that cements his sixth place overall too. While Prokop is going to be vulnerable to Evans and Meeke tomorrow, Paddon probably won't be.
1 Neuville 13m24.4s
2 Meeke +0.8s
3 Ogier +5.9s
4 Ostberg +6.0s
5 Evans +7.3s
6 Paddon +8.6s
7 Mikkelsen +8.8s
8 Latvala +10.8s
2 Mikkelsen +1.5s
3 Ogier +9.6s
4 Ostberg +53.4s
5 Tanak +1m29.2s
6 Paddon +2m35.7s
7 Prokop +3m03.1s
8 Evans +3m22.1s
9 Meeke +3m22.5s
10 Protasov +4m19.6s
11 Abbring +6m45.0s
12 Solowow +7m09.3s
13 Ketomaa (WRC2) +7m44.7s
14 Brynildsen (WRC2) +8m15.3s
15 Solberg +8m34.4s
16 Kubica +8m51.5s
17 Latvala +9m01.1s
* Neuville fastest and
takes the rally lead
top three covered by 9.6s
going into final morning
Meeke second fastest
and closes to within 0.4s of Evans for eighth as both catch sixth-placed Prokop
* Kubica visits a
and loses 15th to Solberg again
And on an afternoon of good news (because a close battle up front with some different faces in it is precisely what the WRC needs - so regardless of who wins, this is a great weekend for rallying), here's another thing to raise a smile.
Petter Solberg and his co-driving wife Pernilla are donating their €520 prize for winning the Historic rally to the Rally Sweden volunteers' after-party. Lovely gesture from a lovely (and quick) bloke.
We'll be back from 7.45am UK time tomorrow morning to see who wins this amazing rally.
Neuville vs Mikkelsen vs Ogier for victory
, plus Evans, Meeke, Kubica and Latvala all making up ground further back. The running order is the current rally standings reversed (sorry Jari-Matti, you're the snowplough) so it's a straight fight up front.
Thanks for your company and kind comments today, see you back here tomorrow.
Good morning and welcome back to AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live for our coverage of what promises to be a thrilling conclusion to
We have three men separated by less than 10 seconds at the top of the leaderboard heading into the final day, with three stages covering 29.1 miles coming up to decide a winner.
The first of those, the 9.3 mile Lesjofors test, is coming up in just under ten minutes' time.
That will be followed by a first run through the 9.9 mile Varmullsasen stage, which will then be repeated for our points-paying
If you missed yesterday's action, where were you?
Thierry Neuville seized the lead of the rally
on yesterday's final stage following a series of storming drives. Chasing his second WRC win, he holds a narrow 1.5s advantage over Andreas Mikkelsen, whose previously comfortable lead was reduced to nothing earlier in the day by a spin.
Meanwhile, Sebastien Ogier lurks just 9.6s behind Neuville, as he seeks to complete his recovery from the spin late on Friday that cost him the lead.
If you need a more detailed reminder, here's our report from yesterday's afternoon loop:
Neuville grabs Rally Sweden lead
This tweet by WRC Live's
summarises the tension and excitement in the service park nicely:
"Three protagonists, three stages, 46km, only one winner! Do Sunday mornings get much better? I really don't think so!"
Don't forget, unlike the last two days, the running order for the morning's stages is the current rally order reversed.
That means Lorenzo Bertelli, who has had a pretty rough time of things so far, gets us underway for the morning.
The Italian has just started the stage, and next up will be Jari-Matti Latvala, whose hopes of winning this event were dashed by an excursion into a snow bank on Friday that cost him eight minutes.
That means the three drivers we're
interested in won't be starting the stage for another 20 minutes or so.
Robert Kubica will be third on the road, followed by privateers Henning Solberg, Michal Solowow, Hyundai new-boy Kevin Abbring and the WRC's newest stage winner, Yuriy Protasov.
Then we have Kris Meeke and Elfyn Evans, who are separated by just four tenths coming into this one in the battle for eighth, Martin Prokop, Haydon Paddon, Ott Tanak and Mads Ostberg, who had been a factor in the lead battle before picking up a puncture yesterday.
Only once all those guys have finished the stage will we see the three victory contenders - first Ogier, then his VW team-mate Mikkelsen, and finally Neuville.
Reports coming in that this stage has no shortage of snow banks, which never fail to inject a bit of unpredictability into proceedings.
Bertelli and Latvala are both through the opening split, the Finn 7.6s up on the Italian.
Latvala has completed the stage a massive 35.6s quicker than Bertelli, setting an early benchmark of 9m15.6s. The Finn will be aiming just to gather some points on the power stage later today.
"The stage was fantastic, I've never been happier with this car the whole rally," says Latvala.
"I've realised something now that I didn't realise two months ago, that I was wrong about something - I'll tell you one day but I'm not saying now!"
Kubica is also through, 13s slower than Latvala, while Henning Solberg, who was quicker than Latvala at the first split, winds up 13.6s off the pace.
Meeke and Evans are both on the stage now. Both are within range of Prokop in seventh place on the leaderboard, the Czech taking a buffer of 19s over the duo into this final day.
The Citroen driver is quickest through the first split so far, a second up on Latvala.
Abbring is through, going fourth fastest with a time 18.7s off the pace.
The Dutchman is 11th overall, about two minutes behind his nearest rival Protasov, so he'll be relying on misfortune to strike one of the cars ahead if he's to score any points this weekend.
Meeke dropped behind Latvala at the second split, and he completes the stage 5.1s adrift.
"I had a clean stage, some parts were fast and others were narrow and slow, so it was difficult to get in a rhythm," he says.
Behind, Evans is 2.7s up at the second split, meaning he should hang on to eighth for now.
Evans comes through second quickest, 3.2s shy of Latvala's time but 1.9s ahead of fellow Briton Meeke.
"Definitely a much better feeling than yesterday. We made some small changes overnight, but nothing major," explains Evans.
Meanwhile, Ogier is now on the stage, meaning Mikkelsen and Neuville won't be far behind.
Reports coming in that our fourth place man
Ostberg has stopped
on the stage...
The Citroen driver has a 36 second buffer to Tanak, but we're hearing he's been passed on the stage by Ogier, implying a time loss of two minutes.
Ostberg is in a snow bank, and Mikkelsen has passed him on the stage as well now.
Latvala lost eight minutes when he suffered that fate on Friday, so it looks as if Ostberg's hopes of staying the top 10 are quickly evaporating.
Mikkelsen is up by 0.7s on Ogier and Neuville by 2.2s at the first split - could we be on for a change of lead here?
Ostberg is back on track now, losing around five minutes with that mishap. That will drop him down to around the Abbring/Solowow region of the leaderboard.
Amid all that drama, Tanak has set the fourth quickest time, 10.9s slower than Latvala.
Ogier is through in a time of 9m05.8s, 9.8s quicker than Latvala. Referring to Ostberg's off, he says:
"I slowed down because he was in the road, I hoped the others slowed down as much as me!"
Neuville is 3.7s down on Mikkelsen at the final split, so it's looking very much as if the Norwegian is set to retake the lead.
Here's Mikkelsen, and he's 1.3s down on Ogier in this one - but set to retake the lead nonetheless.
"I lost a little in the fast sections. Maybe I was being too careful, but I've never seen the stages in this condition before," he says.
Ostberg has made it through, losing around 5m33s to Ogier.
"I had a problem with my handbrake. I tried to save myself, but it locked all four wheels," is his brief explanation of his earlier excursion.
Mikkelsen is back in the lead
- Neuville loses 6.6s to Ogier on the stage, and 5.3s to Mikkelsen.
The Belgian reported an intercom problem that was preventing him from communicating properly with co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul - that's not going to help on the next stage, either.
So, here's how the top three of the rally looks after that:
2) Neuville +3.8s
3) Ogier +6.8s
Just two stages to go, and things are hotting up nicely!
Ostberg is now down to 10th in the standings, which promotes Tanak to fourth and Paddon to fifth, while the battle between Prokop, Evans and Meeke, which is separated by just 8s now, is now for sixth place.
That intercom problem of Neuville's caused him to hit a snow bank, as
from the official WRC account shows.
1) Ogier 9m05.8s
2) Mikkelsen +1.3s
3) Neuville +6.6s
4) Latvala +9.8s
5) Evans +13.0s
6) Meeke +14.9s
1) Mikkelsen 2h39m03.1s
2) Neuville +3.8s
3) Ogier +6.8s
4) Tanak +1m47.1s
5) Paddon +2m58.0s
6) Prokop +3m26.6s
7) Evans +3m32.3s
8) Meeke +3m34.6s
10) Ostberg +6m27.6s
16) Latvala +8m20.9s
18) Kubica +14m11.5s
update before the penultimate stage of the rally begins:
Fredrik Ahlin was quickest on that stage, seven tenths from Pontus Tidemand, but it's still Jari Ketomaa who leads overall, by 29s from Eyvind Brynildsen.
The Varmullsasen stage is now live, and Bertelli is first up again - don't forget, this one will be repeated later on as the points-paying power stage.
Less than seven seconds separating the top three now - can Mikkelsen hang on, or will Neuville find a way to fight back? Or will Ogier trump the pair of them? Make sure you're sitting comfortably!
Bertelli's already navigated the 9.9 mile test in 8m29.9s - let's hear what he has to say about the conditions:
"The previous stage was nice, but this one had better grip," is the Italian's summary.
Latvala is 15.6s quicker than Bertelli, and he's kindly decided to share some more details about his epiphany on the previous stage:
"I should have realised it," he says. "I've been playing around with some things. The way I set up the old car doesn't work in the new car - I should be much better on the gravel."
Kubica is 9.1s slower than Latvala through this one.
The Pole was slapped with a five minute penalty last night as punishment for his RK Ford Fiesta exceeding the maximum permissible boost level, something the ex-Formula 1 star claims his team was powerless to prevent.
Reports coming in that Solowow has stopped in the stage...
Abbring is through, and he's able to shed some light on what's gone wrong for Solowow:
"He had a big moment, and he was stuck in the snow bank. I just avoided him, we lost a bit of time there."
Solberg is also through, 16.8s slower than Latvala. The Norwegian is in jovial spirits as ever, saying: "If you don't have a moment on Rally Sweden, you can go home!"
Meeke and Evans are on the stage now. Meeke is 4.4s down on Latvala through the first split, but 0.4s up on Evans.
Meeke arrives at the flying finish, but he's dropped 12.3s to Latvala, struggling to find a groove.
"Just a little bit cautious, finding it difficult to find that commitment on the fast corners," the Ulsterman explains.
Evans had been up on Meeke at the second split, but he arrives 0.9s adrift - just 1.4s split the two Brits heading into the final stage.
Prokop meanwhile looks as if he could be slipping behind the pair on this one - a second split 20s slower suggests some kind of issue.
Sure enough, the Czech plummets from sixth to eighth overall. Here's his take on what went wrong:
"I had a really huge moment. I was pushing so much, and the car went on its side - I don't know how we got going again!"
Good news for Neuville fans - the Belgian's intercom woes have apparently been fixed. It's game on for the Hyundai-VW battle.
All three of our leading men are on the stage now, and Mikkelsen is 0.7s down at the first split - not disastrous, but he can't afford to give away too much more than that.
Meanwhile, Paddon and Tanak have both completed the stage, slotting into seventh and eighth places - both taking things easy with nobody to fight in the overall standings.
Mikkelsen is at the second split, but now he's
Neuville, meanwhile, is 1.1s slower than the Frenchman at the opening split - his second place could be under threat here...
Ostberg matches Kubica's time, as Ogier completes the stage 0.9s slower than Latvala. Now for Mikkelsen's time...
Mikkelsen clings on to lead
- he loses 3.8s, giving him a margin of just 3.0s going into the finale!
"It's going to be a very exciting last stage," confesses Mikkelsen, who arrived at the flying finish in rather ragged fashion, taking too much speed over the final crest and running wide at the next corner as a result.
Neuville's made it, but he drops to third, 1.6s behind Ogier and 4.6s heading into the last stage.
"Very close to perfect" is how the unflappable Belgian described that stage. Even if he falls short in the final reckoning, he can take immense pride in what has been an absolutely stellar performance in the Hyundai this weekend.
Here's how things are shaping up with just the power stage left:
2) Ogier +3.0s
3) Neuville +4.6s
Caught your breath yet? Here's a summary of what has been an incredible morning of rallying for those just joining us:
Mikkelsen takes the lead
from Neuville on SS19
moves ahead of Neuville for
, and is just 3.0s off the lead
from fourth to 10th after getting stuck in a snow bank
* Evans and Meeke in a
It's a while yet before the final stage kicks off - the crews will be returning to the service park before Varmullsasen 2 starts in around an hour and a half.
Mikkelsen is staring down the barrel of his first win in the WRC - but he'll have to find a fraction of extra pace if he's to stop team-mate Ogier racking up his 26th victory.
Should the Frenchman come through, he'll match the win tally of the great Carlos Sainz, with only Marcus Gronholm (30) and his old adversary Sebastien Loeb (78) ahead of him on the all-time list.
But, if he could hang on, two-time Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion Mikkelsen would become only the third Norwegian to win a round of the WRC, after Ostberg - who broke his duck in Portugal in 2012 - and Petter Solberg, whose first win came back in 2002 on Rally GB (pictured).
Neuville meanwhile secured his and Hyundai's maiden WRC victory last year in Germany, but if he can somehow claw back those 4.6s on the power stage, he would be the only Belgian to have won more than once - Francois Duval having chalked up just the one victory in Australia in 2005.
On the subject of nationalities, it's worth noting that things are hotting up between Finland and France in the battle for honours on the all-time list.
Collectively, Finnish drivers have won 172 WRC events, while the French are just two victories behind on 170.
A win for Ogier today would bring that gap down to one - so Jari-Matti Latvala had better start winning again soon to keep his country safely ahead!
In our excitement over nationality statistics, we forgot to bring you a run-down of times for that stage. Allow us to rectify that now:
1) Latvala 8m14.1s
2) Ogier +0.9s
3) Mikkelsen +4.7s
4) Neuville +5.5s
5) Kubica/Ostberg +11.1s
7) Meeke +12.3s
8) Evans +13.2s
And here's how the overall leaderboard shapes up with just the power stage to go:
1) Mikkelsen 2h47m21.9s
2) Ogier +3.0s
3) Neuville +4.6s
4) Tanak +2m07.3s
5) Paddon +3m15.2s
6) Evans +3m40.8s
7) Meeke +3m42.2s
8) Prokop +4m00.4s
9) Protasov +5m12.7s
10) Ostberg +6m33.0s
13) Latvala +9m03.4s
20) Kubica +14m17.9s
, class honours on the last stage went to Pontus Tidemand, who, if you missed it, bizarrely topped the
that kicked off the action on Thursday evening. The Swede isn't in contention for the class win however, having suffered an off on Friday.
It's still Ketomaa who leads the way on that front, sitting 12th overall, but sure to drop behind Latvala on the final stage barring disaster for the Finn.
Brynildsen remains second, about 30s behind, with Valeriy Gorban a further three minutes back in third.
Some more culinary insight from AUTOSPORT's man on the ground, DAVID EVANS:
"M-Sport’s legendary foodie Mick the Chef further demonstrated his exceptional ability to cook anything up anywhere and anytime when he put together some stunning pasta out the back of a Galaxy in a car park at the Karlstad superspecial on Friday."
At 25 years of age, Mikkelsen is among the youngest of this year's contingent of factory of WRC drivers.
In fact, were he to hang on to take the win today, he would become the seventh youngest ever winner of a rally in the championship's history.
The youngest, I hear you ask? That would be Jari-Matti Latvala, who was just 22 when he chalked up his maiden success at this very event seven years ago.
For the record, between Latvala and Mikkelsen would sit Henri Toivonen, Ostberg, Markku Alen, Duval and Colin McRae.
Speaking of Latvala, here's a
from the man himself, wishing luck to our three challengers for the win:
"Heading now to the last SS. Will really push to try to get extra points in the PS! And #GoodLuck to the 3 guys in front. What a fight! #WRC"
We're about 20 minutes away from the final stage starting, which gives us a perfect opportunity to bring you up to date on last night's hectic
emerged victorious in an incident-packed
race at Daytona, in which less than half the field made the chequered flag, edging out Martin Truex Jr and Carl Edwards for the win.
for our summary of a rather messy race.
While we wait for the power stage to commence, here's more from DAVID EVANS:
"It’s rare to find a Red Bull-liveried machine going anything other than flat out on a round of the World Rally Championship, but AUTOSPORT managed it yesterday morning when we were hideously baulked by this thing…"
Some more service park insight from DAVID EVANS:
"Interesting to note that Mikkelsen was in the service area, while Ogier was with the engineers – usually they’re together, but on this occasion they were apart.
"None of the VW mechanics were moving around; they were all sticking to their own cars, and were trying to conceal which tyres each car was using.
"All three drivers claim to have brand new tyres, but both VW’s tyres defintely looked a bit second-hand.
"I didn't see Neuville's tyres, but when I asked him if he had new tyres, he did his usual beaming smile and said - 'Yes, of course I have!'"
As Kubica gets proceedings under way, here's more from DAVID EVANS:
"The feeling in the service park is that Mikkelsen winning would be more popular – especially as he’s in last year’s car, one of Ogier's rally-winning chassis from last year.
"When I asked him about that, he said: 'Imagine if I had the new car' – he gets it in Portugal."
Latvala sets off in search of some consolation points on the power stage.
Without his trip to that snow bank on Friday, he could well have been in the thick of this morning's action.
Kubica takes the flying finish, setting a time to beat of 8m26.1s - 1.1s slower than his previous attempt on the stage.
With WRC-2 driver Ahlin 38s up the road, it seems the Pole is set to end the rally down in 20th after that differential problem and five-minute penalty.
Henning Solberg is next to complete - and he's 8.1s slower than Kubica. The Norwegian sits 14th at the moment, although that could become 13th depending on WRC-2 leader Ketomaa's effort.
Next to complete will be Latvala, followed by Abbring, Ostberg and Prokop.
Latvala takes nine seconds out of Kubica's time, but interestingly he's three seconds slower than his stage-winning time of a couple of hours ago.
Abbring gets plenty of air over the crest near the flying finish, and the Dutchman slots in third fastest so far, 15.1s slower than Latvala.
It's not been an easy factory WRC debut, but one he can look back upon with satisfaction despite the likely lack of points.
"The conditions were new, but getting used to the speed and potential of a WRC car was even more difficult," says Abbring.
Ostberg lowers Latvala's benchmark by 1.5s, a great effort having been down on Latvala through the opening split. Could three points be in the offing for the Citroen driver?
"For the first time on the rally, the car is working perfect - but it's very disappointing to know what I could have had this rally."
Meeke's quickest through the first split so far, 2.1s up on Ostberg - but the Ulsterman has
suffered a spin
later on, so that's surely his chances of overhauling Evans up in smoke.
Meanwhile, Prokop comes home 18.7s off the pace, but could he be set to gain a place at Meeke's expense?
Arriving at the stage end, Meeke loses 16.7s to team-mate Ostberg, but it's enough to hang on to seventh.
"It was a fast right-hander, and I touched the [snow bank] with the rear, which sucked in the front," is Meeke's take on his costly error.
Evans will be next through, then Paddon and Tanak before the three cars all eyes will be upon.
Evans makes it home with his sixth place safely in tact, 5.3s adrift of Ostberg on the stage.
That's a job well done for the Welshman, who has gained precious experience on snow while also scooping a decent haul of points.
Further back, Neuville is now underway. All eyes on the splits...
So far, Ostberg is set for the maximum three points, with Latvala on course for two and Evans one - but don't expect the top three to be taking things easy.
Paddon brings what is effectively Sordo's Hyundai home, 9.4s off the pace, to secure his best-ever WRC finish with fifth.
Ogier, meanwhile, is now in the stage, as Neuville tops Ostberg's opening split time by 2.3s.
Things weren't looking promising for Tanak early in this rally, but the Estonian hasn't put a wheel wrong since his opening day problems, and fourth place is a just reward.
Meanwhile, Ogier is 1.6s up on Neuville at the first split...
A quick reminder of the state of play for the top three:
2) Ogier +3.0s
3) Neuville +4.6s
Neuville goes quickest
by 5.1s - but will it be enough? Just the two VWs to come...
This is going to be a long six minutes for Neuville. Here's what the Belgian has to say at the end of his rally:
"I took big risks to be honest, but everything went well. I've worked very hard this weekend, it's a big wake-up call for the team."
At the first split,
Mikkelsen and Ogier are neck-and-neck!
It's looking good for the Norwegian, but can he hang on?
gives it absolutely everything through the final part of the stage, taking huge air at the final crest - and he
smashes Neuville's time
Mikkelsen is off! Ogier is going to win Rally Sweden!
The Norwegian has spun, and crowds of spectators are trying desperately to get him back on track!
Replays show Mikkelsen braking just a fraction late, clipping a snow bank with the rear, and spinning round. He's back on track now, but he's going to drop from first to third. Heartbreak!
The Norwegian navigates the final few corners of the rally, getting a fantastic reception from his fans at what is effectively his home event - he's 42.8s off the pace, which means
Ogier is the winner of Rally Sweden!
Mikkelsen climbs disconsolately from the VW and walks over to the crowd of reporters, while co-driver Ola Floene can't bring himself to get out of the car yet.
"We gave it everything. Just a snow bank pulled the car in, and we were stuck. We gave it all we had in the last one. We tried, that's the main thing."
Ogier and Julien Ingrassia were informed of Mikkelsen's spin as soon as pictures of the #3 Polo nose-first in the snow flashed up on the big screens. They immediately jumped onto their car's roof to start celebrating.
Mikkelsen still made it home for a podium in third place, 39s off the lead. Not much consolation but surely, surely this man will win Rally Sweden one day after his performances over the past two years.
Congratulatory handshakes for Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul from the other drivers at the stage end too, and rightly so.
It wasn't quite a second win for Hyundai, but Neuville was only 6s behind Ogier's VW at the end, which is still an astounding result that bodes very well for the rest of the season.
Straight to the podium and the champagne. Ogier looks a bit subdued initially - partly probably because he's knackered and partly out of politeness to his gutted team-mate. But now he jogs over to the fans and gives them a spray of fizz.
Would it be painfully twee to say that the World Rally Championship is the real winner this weekend?
On Friday morning things were not looking promising - three VWs running one-two-three in championship order, stretching away from each other and everyone else.
Then it all went crazy when Ogier and Latvala made their mistakes, and then Neuville found another gear on Saturday morning and spiced things up even more.
Sebastien Loeb, it would be lovely to have you back more often too, but the WRC's post-Loeb pack
entertain without him.
Jari Ketomaa comes through to
- a result he's looked on course for since Friday. There's also a very strong field in the support class here so that's fully deserved.
1 Ogier 8m05.6s
2 Neuville +4.8s
3 Ostberg +9.9s
4 Latvala +11.5s
5 Evans +15.2s
6 Paddon +19.3s
2 Neuville +6.4s
3 Mikkelsen +39.8s
4 Tanak +2m26.0s
5 Paddon +3m31.5s
6 Evans +3m53.0s
7 Meeke +4m05.8s
8 Prokop +4m26.0s
9 Protasov +5m32.2s
10 Ostberg +6m50.9s
11 Abbring +7m55.6s
12 Latvala +9m11.9s
Eyvind Brynildsen finishes second in
and is quick to ask about countryman Mikkelsen.
"I can see lots of Norwegian flags - did he win?"
With his second straight win, Ogier is already in an ominous position in the championship, leading nearest challenger Neuville by 24 after just two rounds.
But the champion is absolutely convinced he's not going to win the next round in
next month, as running first on the inevitably dusty roads there for two full days will be too big a disadvantage to overcome.
Neuville, Mikkelsen and Latvala won't be in brilliant road positions there either, so it could be a chance for Robert Kubica, Dani Sordo and Kris Meeke to make a splash as they're all currently quite short of points.
As ever, you'll be able to follow it all on AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live, from Friday March 6 to Sunday March 8.
Before then, our next live action will be from
Barcelona Formula 1 testing
, which runs from Thursday to Sunday in the coming week.
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Friday 13 Feb
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