The young Estonian took his seventh victory of his career and has moved into the championship lead for the first time ever. Here’s the story of how it came together.
The first stage on Thursday evening saw Thierry take an early lead from Ogier and Andreas Mikkelsen, whilst Ott was fourth, just 1.9 seconds after the short 1,9km opener.
It was a very early start on Friday morning, with service at six am! The start order looked like this- Ogier, Neuville, Tänak, Meeke, Loeb, Latvala, Suninen, Tidemand, Mikkelsen, Lappi, Evans, Gronhölm, Bertelli, Tuohino, Greensmith, Rovanperä, Ostberg.
First stage, SS 2 – Hof-Finnskog 1 (21,26 km) saw some changes to the leaderboard. The conditions were surprisingly warm, with temperatures hovering around seven to eight degrees. Conditions in the stage were not what you’d expect for the only snow rally on the calendar, with slush and not much of a disadvantage for Seb Ogier who opened the road, but still managed to set the fourth fastest time, just 4.1 seconds behind Ott who won the stage from Teemu and Jari-Matti.
The next stage, SS 3 – Svullrya 1 (24,88 km) saw very different conditions, with fresh snow and a little longer stage giving those further back an advantage. Teemu used this, to take the stage and move up into second overall. Seb Ogier and Andreas both fell down the leaderboard. Elfyn had a better stage as well, moving into the top ten.
There was more light snow in SS 4 – Röjden 1 (18,10 km) and Ott took another stage victory with his lead increased over Teemu, whilst Latvala’s second fastest time moved him ahead of Thierry. Elfyn showed improved pace and confidence, setting the third fastest time and moving closer to Loeb who was holding ninth place.
SS 5 – Hof-Finnskog 2 saw Elfyn take his first ever stage victory in Sweden, moving into eighth place as well, with Jari-Matti and Teemu second and third fastest, whilst Ott could only manage sixth fastest and he fell from the lead to third with Jari-Matti and Teemu now in first and second overall.
SS 6 – Svullrya 2 (24,88 km) saw the exit of Seb Ogier for the day, as he spun after hitting snowbank, and with no spectators nearby, there was no chance to get back on road. The C3 was stuck fast. Teemu won the stage, deposing Jari-Matti from the lead and Seb Loeb and Andreas were second and third, whilst Elfyn climbed another two places, after setting the fourth fastest time.
We didn’t have to wait long for another stage victory for Elfyn, as he took SS 7 – Röjden 1 (18,10 km) with Latvala and Loeb setting the same time, 4.4 seconds behind the Welshman who was now in fifth overall. Teemu was still in the lead with Jari-Matti and Ott his closest challengers.
The final stage of the day was won by WRC2 Hyundai driver Jari Huttunen, beating Lappi and Tanak incredibly! Brilliant giant-killing performance, in a stage that rewards driver skill more than just having a faster car. Teemu was still leading, with Ott and Andreas having made it into second and third, with Elfyn having climbed now into fourth position.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 1
- Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) 1:11:05.3
- Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2.0
- Mikkelsen / Jaeger-Amland (Hyundai i20 WRC) +17.8
- Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +28.6
- Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +42.0
- Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +48.8
- Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +52.7
- Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +53.1
- Tidemand / Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:24.4
Let’s hear from the drivers.
Teemu Suninen (1st)
“To be leading my first rally is an amazing feeling. We didn’t make any big mistakes and had really good pace all day so we can be happy with that. It was just a shame that we made a small mistake with the lights on the last stage [SS8] – otherwise our lead could have been 10 seconds more than it is now!
“The car feels really good and I have really enjoyed the driving. We had a really good test in the lead-up to this event and the whole team was pushing the car to be better.
“Of course, everyone’s target is to be the fastest, but we need to remember that there are still two days to go with some very difficult conditions. We need to keep going and concentrate on the driving. For sure Ott will be fast tomorrow, but we are in front of him and we will try our best.”
Elfyn Evans (4th)
“We didn’t have the best of starts and it was a shame about the spin on the first stage of the morning [SS2]. By the third stage [of the day, SS4] we had started to get into it and it went pretty well from there with two stage wins. The afternoon was really good and we moved up to fourth, so let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”
Pontus Tidemand (9th)
“We had some problems this morning but the car was working well this afternoon and I am quite happy with my driving. The speed of the guys at the front is really quick and I know that I still have a lot to learn. This evening we will try to look at what we have been doing well and what we can do better. We’ll keep going tomorrow and try to find some more.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (2nd)
“I really enjoyed it this morning: we had great conditions and it was a pure joy to drive. This afternoon was then completely opposite, but it is often like this on Rally Sweden. It was just about surviving and getting through, and then on the last stage we gave it a push to get closer to the leader. It wasn’t an easy stage with deep snow and with not many studs left on the tyres: I had a couple of moments myself. I think we did all we could today, and tomorrow we should have similar conditions to the drivers we are competing with.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (Rally2)
“For the most part, today was a great day. The car has been really good to drive and I was enjoying a big fight with Teemu Suninen. I was using my tyres a lot which was OK when we had the gravel ruts, but then the last stage was icy with more snow on the top of the surface. I was pushing too hard for the conditions on my used tyres and it caught me out. Now it will be important to get back out there tomorrow and to try and get a good feeling with the driving.”
Kris Meeke (8th)
“We struggled for pace this morning but it got better during the afternoon loop. The conditions were really tough. At one moment it looked like Rally GB with all the mud, and the next you’re in deep slush. Unfortunately, a stall at the start of one stage has cost us three positions, and three positions in the road order for tomorrow. There’s still a long way to go though, and tomorrow will be complicated again with the conditions, so let’s see what happens.”
Citroën Total WRT
Sébastien Ogier (Rally2)
“We had had a good first loop this morning. But we knew that the second loops here are always very tricky, especially when you are first on the road. I only had a slight impact with a snow bank, but we ended up stuck. With no fans nearby, we had no chance of getting going again.”
Esapekka Lappi (5th)
“It was a difficult day, with quite a few errors among the crews and unfortunately, I was of the ones to make a mistake. I am nonetheless pleased with the way in which I ended the leg and with the progress I made in the handling of my C3 WRC on these stages. In recce, there was less ice on tomorrow’s stages than those we contested today, so I expect there will be quite a bit of gravel and mud on the roads. I’ll need to look after the studs more, but I’m going to keep pushing like we have done so far.”
Andreas Mikkelsen (3rd)
“We have finished a tough opening day in third overall, which is a pretty satisfactory position to find ourselves all things considered. It has been hard to feel comfortable to push in these conditions. We were managing our tyres so we could go for a good final stage of the day, but we still lost a lot of studs. This morning we were making changes between every stage to find a better rhythm and make the most of our road position. As always, it was great to drive in Norway and to experience the fantastic home support. Tomorrow is a new day and we’ll focus on chasing down a podium finish.”
Seb Loeb (6th)
“It has been a day focused on finding improvements. I couldn’t get into a good rhythm this morning. These cars are very fast on these stages and you have to be completely confident. You need to trust the grip from the car to get the ideal entry speed for each corner, and to commit fully. We improved with each stage as our confidence was building inside the car. We have tried to regain some of the lost time, while also driving sensibly to make sure we don’t make any mistakes. Tomorrow, we will try to pick up our pace even more.”
Thierry Neuville (7th)
“We felt we were a bit too cautious this morning as one of the first cars on the road, and some of the guys behind us were able to go really fast. We made some good adjustments at lunchtime service but the afternoon did not get off to the start we had hoped. The conditions were more like a gravel rally than a snow one. Unfortunately, we hit a snowbank and spun the car, causing damage that then affected the rest of our day. Missing aero at the front of the car, we had to just drive gently and fluidly. We will aim for a more representative performance tomorrow and see what we can do to make up ground.”
It was another early start, with service once again at six am! The start order was thus- Gronhölm Ogier, Latvala, Bertelli, Tuohino, Tidemand, Meeke, Neuville, Loeb, Lappi, Evans, Mikkelsen, Tänak, Suninen.
Stage SS9 – Rämmen 1 (23,13 km) was won by Jari-Matti from Tanak and Seb. Teemu slipped from the lead, with Ott now back at the top of the leaderboard. It was a good stage for Kris as well, as he moved up into sixth place, now ahead of Thierry and Seb Loeb.
Ogier won the following stage, SS 10 – Hagfors 1 (23,40 km), from Ott and Thierry. There was the dramatic exit of Teemu from second though, who slid off the road. The gap between third place, held by Elfyn and sixth place was now just eleven seconds.
Ogier also won SS 11 – Vargasen 1 (14,21 km) from Thierry and Teemu. Thierry’s pace lifted him up into fourth place and was now just a second behind Elfyn. The gap from sixth closed a little more to third as well.
Ott Tanak continued his strong pace in SS 12 – Rämmen 2 (23,13 km), winning once more and taking his lead up to 40 seconds over Andreas. Esapekka was also on the move up, deposing Elfyn from third place and Thierry as well, who was now fifth.
SS 13 – Hagfors 2 (23,40 km) followed after service and it was another stage win for the ever-dominant Estonian in his Yaris, his lead now a little over fifty seconds. Lappi was also closing on second placed Andreas, whilst Thierry had passed Elfyn, moving into fourth place.
Top three in SS 14 – Vargasen 2 (14,21 km) was, Ogier, Neuville and Evans. Andreas lost more time to an ever closing Esapekka, with only two seconds between them on the leaderboard. Elfyn was keeping the pressure on Thierry as best he could, and had also increased the gap to Kris. Unfortunately, Teemu retired, after clipping a tree, which resulted in damage to the rollcage in his car.
Ott also won SS 15 – Super Special Stage Karlstad 2 (1,90 km), whilst Esapekka closed to within four tenths of a second of Andreas.
SS 16 – Torsby Sprint (2,80 km) was won by Thierry, thus increasing the gap to Elfyn and Lappi was second in the stage, bringing him level with Andreas on the leaderboard, now sharing second overall. Ott’s lead was standing at fifty-four and a half seconds, after a very strong day.
STANDINGS AFTER DAY 2
- Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:19:31.7
2. Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) & Mikkelsen / Jaeger-Amland (Hyundai i20 WRC) +54.5
- Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 56.8
- Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:08.7
- Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:36.5
- Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:38.1
- Tidemand / Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3:08.0
Let’s hear from the drivers.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (1st)
“I’m really happy with how today went. The conditions in the morning were really nice again, and it was just pure fun to drive. I wasn’t pushing to the maximum, I was just in a good rhythm. This afternoon was completely different to yesterday for me: the conditions were very smooth. It shows how important the job we did yesterday was, because today we have been able to take advantage of our good road position. Now we have quite a big margin behind and we just need to manage it through the first two stages tomorrow, and then hopefully it might be possible to get some points from the Power Stage.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (25th)
“It was good to restart this morning with the fastest time in Rämmen. It’s a stage I have very good memories of as it was where I celebrated my first win here in 2008. The conditions were really nice this morning but this afternoon it was very demanding, so we just tried to experiment with the setup in preparation for tomorrow. When the roads have been fast and flowing, the car has felt really good but we’ve been struggling in some of the more technical parts, so we’ve been trying to work on this with our sights set on the Power Stage.”
Kris Meeke (6th)
“It has been another mixed day for us. This morning when the roads were nice and frozen, we had good speed and we were moving into podium contention. The car felt good, I was getting more confidence and attacking a bit more. I expected that this afternoon would be difficult with our road position with the temperature going up and it proved to be. Now we just have to try and hold on to our position tomorrow.”
Citroën Total WRT
Sébastien Ogier (33rd)
“It’s always a different race when you rejoin after a retirement, but we tried to find a good rhythm and try out a few things with the set-up, especially as we had a wide variety of conditions again today. It also gave me the chance to gradually improve my knowledge of the C3 WRC and the times we set today confirm its potential. As one of the first on the road, I’m not sure I have a real chance on the Power Stage tomorrow, but we’ll at least give it a good go. “
Esapekka Lappi (equal 2nd)
“I think we can be pleased with our performance today! After a good morning, our afternoon was even more solid. I was comfortable in my C3 WRC in the ruts which had formed between the two loops. There are four of us that can realistically finish on the podium, so we’ll need to be wide awake tomorrow, especially as the Likenas stage, in particular, is so fast that you need to be fully committed. But as far as that is concerned, you can definitely count on us!”
Andreas Mikkelsen (equal 2nd)
“It is developing into a very intense battle in some very complicated driving conditions, but I am really enjoying myself. We had a good morning loop, and moved up into second place, but we were still lacking some top speed. Changes we made at lunchtime service worked well but we had a moment midway through the loop. We lost grip and went into a snowbank that lost us a bit of time. The times are incredibly close so we will keep pushing on Sunday morning and do everything we can to finish this rally on the podium.”
Thierry Neuville (4th)
“We have made good progress today and second place is now firmly in our sights. It’s going to be a close battle between many crews, which sets up another exciting final day – perfect entertainment for the fans! I have tried to focus on finding grip and traction in the difficult conditions. I was missing a bit of confidence in the faster sections but overall, we have had a positive day. The afternoon loop was about managing tyres. We were pushing hard in SS14 (Vargåsen) when I got caught out off the line and had a spin. We lost four or five seconds there but we got straight back on it to minimise the time loss. It’s definitely game on for second tomorrow, and we’re right in the hunt.”
Seb Loeb (7th)
“It has been another day of two halves. It has been quite some time since I last competed in Rally Sweden, and we only had one day of testing, so considering those limitations it has been OK. The car has felt good; the question is just about finding the right rhythm. The afternoon loop was an improvement, even if we had to manage the tyres, and we now need to focus on our fight with Kris Meeke for sixth place.”
Elfyn Evans (5th)
“There was more time to be found out there today and although we had some good stages it was disappointing to lose so much time on some of the others. Tomorrow is a new day and we’ll keep fighting and looking forward.”
Pontus Tidemand (8th)
“I started to feel very comfortable in the car this afternoon so I am happy for that. But with this road position it was not so easy to get close to the top times. Hopefully if we have some freezing temperatures tonight, tomorrow will be a bit better for us.”
Teemu Suninen (DNF)
“We made some mistakes today but I think this weekend has still been a positive one. Last year we were struggling quite a lot with the pace, but this year we were able to increase the speed and fight for the top positions.
“The pace has been really good all weekend. Of course, we shouldn’t have made these mistakes, but there were a lot of mistakes from a lot of drivers in these difficult conditions – and it is better to have the pace and improve the consistency.
“The performance has given me a lot of confidence and I need to push more and prepare even harder for the next rallies. I want to thank the team – not only for repairing the car today – but also because everyone is pushing in the right direction and the car feels really good.”
Just three stages remained then to run on Sunday, and the start list looked like this – Gronhölm, Ogier, Latvala, Bertelli, Tuohino, Tidemand, Suninen, Loeb, Meeke, Evans, Neuville, Lappi, Mikkelsen, Tänak, Ostberg.
Jari-Matti won SS 17 – Likenäs 1 (21,19 km) from Seb Ogier and Esapekka, with the result that the young Finn was now in a clear second place, as Andreas fell to fourth place, now also behind Thierry. The gap had also closed between the Norwegian and Elfyn. The Welshman was not giving up on getting fourth place.
The re-run of – Likenäs 2 (21,19 km) as SS18 saw Elfyn take his third stage win in Sweden, taking 2.4 seconds out of Andreas in their continuing battle for fourth. Esapekka was widening the gap to Thierry, but up front, Ott Tanak was confirming his position at the top, whilst looking after his tyres for one final push in the powerstage.
The last stage then, SS 19 – Torsby 2 Power Stage (8,93 km) and the top five were, Tanak, Neuville, Evans, Ogier and Lappi and they picked up the points for their championship challenge. Ott Tanak moved into the lead of the championship for the first time ever.
The final standings for Rally Sweden
- Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:47:30.0
- Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +53.7
- Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 56.7
- Mikkelsen / Jaeger-Amland (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:05.4
- Evans / Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:08.2
- Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:38.8
- Loeb / Elena (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:49.7
- Tidemand / Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3:37.7
Let’s hear then from all the drivers!
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
Ott Tänak (1st)
“We have had a very good weekend. Friday was a key moment where we had to get through to minimise the time loss in the conditions, but after this we just drove with a good rhythm and as little risk as possible. Today it was about saving the tyres for the Power Stage and to give it a big push. We had a very good run and everything was working really well, so I was really comfortable in the car. We have a very strong team and it’s great for us to have this kind of result at the beginning of the season.”
Jari-Matti Latvala (21st)
“The first stage this morning was the best stage of the rally: nice, clean ice conditions with big snowbanks, and a fast, flowing road over the crests. It was really enjoyable to drive and nice to be back in a good rhythm. I hoped to get some points on the Power Stage and finish the rally on a high note, but the conditions there for me were very difficult, especially the last part where there was lots of snow and slush. Now we look forward to Mexico.”
Kris Meeke (6th)
“The conditions this morning were very nice with full ice: just what we really like to drive on. My objective today was to try and finish in front of Sebastien Loeb and we managed to increase the gap, so I’m happy with that. On the Power Stage I had a big impact on the front-left and I struggled after that. The mild temperatures this weekend have been so different to my pre-event test and I’ve lacked some speed as a result. But it’s good to get to the end and score some points for the team.”
Citroën Total WRT
Esapekka Lappi (2nd)
“I knew after testing that we had worked well and that was confirmed during this rally, which I really enjoy. The conditions this weekend were nonetheless quite a bit different so we gradually worked on improving the set-up of our C3 WRC, which helped us to feel increasingly confident in the car and to up our pace as we completed more of the stages. I’m delighted with this result. It kick starts our season and augurs really well for the rest of the year!”
Sébastien Ogier (29th)
“Obviously, I had hoped for a better result, but it’s always difficult to do well when you open the road here. A lot of the crews hit the snow banks, including us. We were also a bit unlucky in that we got stuck in one of the rare spots where there were no spectators. We did our very best on the Power Stage, even though once again the conditions were far from ideal for us. I’m already focused on Mexico. “
Thierry Neuville (3rd)
“We are pleased to be on the podium again; we couldn’t have done any more here at Rally Sweden. It was a big battle in these tricky conditions and we were on the edge for a lot of it. When you are pushing so hard, it is easy to make mistakes, so we have to be content with our third place – as well as taking four extra points for second in the Power Stage. We are still at the start of a long season with lots more to come, so it is important to get as many points in the bag in these opening rounds. As a team, we are all focused on pushing for more performance, and we will continue to work in this direction as we prepare for Mexico.”
“We gave it all we could this weekend, and it was an exciting right to the end. Of course, we would have preferred to finish on the podium but congratulations to Thierry for his result. It is a pretty good team result for here; third and fourth gives us important points, but we know it could have been better. In conditions like we have faced, it is a high-risk strategy to push too hard. Today, we wanted to maintain a good pace but not do anything crazy to jeopardise our position. As a team, we have all three cars at the end of the rally and we can take a lot of lessons forward into future events. Thanks to all the fans for showing us such great support this weekend.”
Seb Loeb (7th)
“It has been a complicated weekend, with a lot of ups and downs. I am happy to have made it to the end of the rally. We have set some good times during the event and we have been able to learn a lot more about the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, which is very useful for the future. In the end, looking at these positives, it has been a satisfactory weekend but with room for further improvement.”
Elfyn Evans (5th)
“We’ve had very good speed for the most part of this weekend. I would say that we can be happy with 75 percent of the stages we did, but I’m just kicking myself about the other 25 percent which didn’t go quite as well as they should have.
“We had the potential to be on the podium so we are left with a little bit of frustration, but there are still a lot of positives. We’ve made a massive step with the car compared to last year and we already know that we’re competitive on gravel so I’m really looking forward to the upcoming events.”
Pontus Tidemand (8th)
“It’s a dream to compete here on my home event with a world rally car. It has been amazing and I want to thank all of the fans and supporters and of course my sponsors as well as the whole M-Sport team and Ola who have done a fantastic job all weekend.
“It was a shame to have had the issues on Friday but these things happen and I have been improving a lot. I’m starting to feel quite comfortable with the aerodynamics and everything and I only wish this event could have been longer!
“I still need some time with this incredible car, and I really hope that we have an opportunity to do some more later in the year.”
Teemu Suninen (23rd)
“We had really good pace this weekend, and that gives me a lot of confidence. But there were a couple of mistakes and that means that we come away from this rally with no points.
“I have to work hard for the next event, but I still think there have been a lot of positives this weekend. I led a rally for the first time, and the car felt really good. A big thanks to the team who have been working really hard, and hopefully we can do better in Mexico.”
DRIVERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
- Ott Tänak – 47 points
- Thierry Neuville – 40 points
- Sébastien Ogier – 31 points
- Kris Meeke – 21 points
- Esapekka Lappi – 19 points
- Sébastien Loeb – 18 points
- Elfyn Evans – 13 points
- Andreas Mikkelsen – 12 points
- Jari-Matti Latvala – 10 points
MANUFACTURERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
- Toyota Gazoo Racing – 58 points
- Hyundai WRT – 57 points
- Citroën Total WRT – 47 points
- M-Sport Ford WRT – 30 points
Well, what we saw this weekend, confirmed what we believed after Monte-Carlo. Toyota really have the fastest car and the strongest team I believe.
The other teams expected to fight for the championships have a big battle ahead of them. What we won’t know is what would Seb Ogier have done if he’d not beached his C3. In the other Citroen, Esapekka Lappi scored a good podium finish.
Who else stood out? Well, the M-Sport team had its moments with Teemu leading at the end of day one, but what about Elfyn Evans? He certainly bounced back after Monte-Carlo with a very good drive, including three stage wins, his first in Sweden. A very good performance in other stages, included a number of top three times as well, including the all important powerstage where he went faster than Seb Ogier.
At Hyundai, the team started slowly, but they picked up time, and Thierry drove well, despite the 360 spin to a good podium finish. Not sure what to think of the others. Has Andreas turned a corner? Fourth for the Norwegian is a start, but still not amazing, and it’s a year since he last stood on a podium. Seb Loeb is a great driver, and he is still getting used to his Hyundai.
The next event is Rally Mexico, where we will see very different conditions. There’s a number of drivers who could win there and road position will be important. Put it in your diaries, March the 7th to 10th!