Reigning champion Sebastien Ogier took victory on Rally Sweden by just 6.4 seconds, after a thrilling battle with Andreas Mikkselsen and Thierry Neuville.
Ogier led the early running, followed closely by Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala. But their battle ended abruptly on Friday’s final stage, when both drivers made mistakes.
Frenchman Ogier got off lightly, losing a minute to a spin. But Latvala got stuck in a snow bank for nine minutes, which dropped the Finn well out of contention for a fourth Swedish win. He recovered to 12th, but with no points in the offing, Volkswagen retired his car before the finish to preserve the Polo R WRC for the next round in Mexico.
The drama left VW junior driver Andreas Mikkelsen in the lead. He held onto the position through Saturday morning, but Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Ogier were snapping at his heels.
A pair of fastest times on the day’s final stages promoted Neuville to the lead, just 1.5 seconds ahead of Mikkelsen and less than 10 seconds in front of Ogier.
But, such was the pace of the VWs on Sunday, Neuville couldn’t keep up and was displaced from the lead by Mikkelsen, though he was still a position to pick up the pieces. He did just that, securing second at the finish when Mikkelsen spun his chance of a maiden win away on the final stage, almost within sight of the finish.
Ogier snatched the victory, just 6.4 seconds up on Neuville. Mikkelsen was left wondering what might have been, crossing the line 39.8 seconds in arrears.
M-Sport’s Ott Tanak finished fourth, despite an off on Friday. Hayden Paddon finished a fine fifth on his top-class debut for Hyundai, while Ford man Elfyn Evans was a solid sixth.
Kris Meeke could only manage seventh after a number of errors; Martin Prokop and Yuriy Protasov were eight and ninth. Mads Ostberg rounded out the points in tenth, on a recovery drive after a puncture on Saturday.
With two wins from the first two events of the season, Ogier leads the championship with 53 points. Neuville lies second with 30 points.
Rally Mexico comes next, starting on 5 March. For more information click here.
Top 10 finishers after 21 stages
- Sebastien Ogier — Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC — 2h55m30.5s
- Thierry Neuville — Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC — +6.4s
- Andreas Mikkelsen — Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC — +39.8s
- Ott Tanak — M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC — +2m26.0s
- Hayden Paddon — Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC — +3m31.5s
- Elfyn Evans — M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC — +3m53.0s
- Kris Keeke — Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC– +4m05.8s
- Martin Prokop — Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC — +4m26.0s
- Yuriy Protasov — M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC — +5m32.2s
- Mads Ostberg — Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC– +6m50.9s