Midday wrap: Ostberg holds shock lead in Sweden
Mads Ostberg has completed the opening loop of three stages of Rally Sweden this morning with a shock lead of 24.8s over Mikko Hirvonen as the new World Rally Car era got off to a sensational start in Scandinavia.
The flying Norwegian, co-driven by Swede Jonas Andersson, was fastest on all three stages in Sweden's Varmland county at the wheel of his M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
"I'm so confident with the car and I'm trusting my co-driver and my pace notes completely," said the 23-year-old. "The car I'm driving is fantastic and I'm just enjoying it. I'm taking it steady with no risks and I'm very comfortable with the speed I am doing."
But while Ostberg shone, Sebastien Loeb's world title defence got off to a troubled start in his all-new Citroen DS3 WRC. The multiple title winner dropped considerable time clearing a line through loose surface snow that had fallen extensively in the last 24 hours.
"It's nearly undriveable, no grip at all and I can never touch the hard surface under it," said Loeb, who languishes in ninth overall, 1m46.7s off the lead. "I know I will clean again this afternoon so we will see."
Hirvonen, who heads the factory Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, reported several moments in his Fiesta RS WRC. However, his margin over third-placed Petter Solberg is a comfortable 20.8s heading into service on the outskirts of the town of Hagfors.
Jari-Matti Latvala survived a trip into a snow bank on stage three and a high-speed spin on stage four to hold fourth in the second factory Fiesta. He heads Swedish hero Patrik Sandell, who is a surprise fifth overall in his Super 2000-specification Skoda Fabia, 0.2s behind the Finn.
Henning Solberg, who was second fastest on stage four, which crossed over the border into his native Norway for several kilometres, is sixth after four stages, one place ahead of countryman Eyvind Brynildsen in another S2000 Skoda.
Sebastien Ogier is the highest-placed Citroen Total World Rally Team pilot in eighth spot. The rising French star, tackling Rally Sweden for a second time, was in touching distance of third place after three stages but lost almost one minute overshooting a junction nine kilometres into stage four.
PG Andersson was the morning loop's biggest loser when he rolled his privately-entered Fiesta RS WRC on stage two, Vargasen. The Swede was fastest on Thursday night's opening superspecial to take a 0.6s lead into Friday's first stage where disaster struck and he lost more than one minute. He briefly hit back when he set the joint fastest time on stage three only to pick up a puncture on stage four and slip firmly out of contention.
Czech Martin Prokop completes the top 10 in his Fiesta S2000 with ex-Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen 2.5s adrift in his Citroen DS3 WRC.
Of the other World Rally Car drivers in action, Matthew Wilson's hopes of starting his 2011 campaign with a strong result suffered an early blow when his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta developed a powersteering glitch on Friday's opening test. "It's a real strange thing. Once you're sideways the steering tends to luck and it's just so slow and heavy. I've just got no confidence, it's really difficult."
Khalid Al Qassimi and Dennis Kuipers both lost ground when their Fiestas suffered suspected turbo boost problems. Ken Block is 17th overall on his first winter rally using studded tyres.
Anders Grondal and Veronica Engan, the girlfriend of overall leader Mads Ostberg, head the Production Car World Rally Championship standings in their Subaru Impreza WRX STi. Patrik Flodin, the pre-event favourite, was delayed by more than one minute stuck in a snow bank on stage two but holds second in class from Mitsubishi Lancer driver Martin Semerad.