Saturday wrap: Epic battle for victory in prospect
Rally Sweden is set for an epic closing day on Sunday with five drivers separated by a little more than 15 seconds heading into the final six stages.
Mikko Hirvonen, driving a Ford Fiesta RS WRC, moved in front when he demoted Mads Ostberg for the lead on stage 11 this morning. Despite a spin on the next test, Hirvonen has remained in front and will take a lead of 7.4s into day three of the world championship season-opener.
However, with Hirvonen, Mads Ostberg, Petter Solberg, Jari-Matti Latvala and Sebastien Ogier all covered by 15.8s, the fight for victory is set to go down to the event-closing Power Stage, which will be shown live around the world on television and will award bonus points to the fastest three drivers.
Finn Hirvonen will start first on the road on Sunday admits he might lose time cleaning a line for the drivers running behind, something Ostberg had to do today.
"Maybe I don't have a chance but you never know," said Hirvonen. "All I can do is go flat-out. It's been so difficult today because all those drivers running after us on the national rally are making the line in completely the wrong place but they won't be there tomorrow so maybe we can do it. I will just push as hard as I can."
Ostberg started day two 14.8s up on Hirvonen but gradually slipped back as the day progressed.
"It's been absolutely very difficult today," said the M-Sport Stobart Fiesta driver. "I expected it to be a lot better on the second pass of the stages but it was a lot worse with all the ruts that had formed. That made it so frustrating but that's how it is. I just have to stay calm and not do anything stupid, drive and push again."
Petter Solberg is in third position overnight, 1.5s behind Ostberg despite picking up a second 10-second penalty for his late arrival at the start of stage 10.
"That was the plan to be third," said the Norwegian Citroen star, who was fastest on two forest stages today. "I was not so happy with the handling at one point today but in the end it got better when we made some changes and I am happy."
Apart from a brief, high-speed spin two kilometres from the end of stage 12, little has troubled Ford driver Latvala as he fought his way into contention for victory in fourth overall, 10.9s behind Hirvonen.
Sebastien Ogier, competing in Sweden for only a second time, impressed in his works Citroen DS3 WRC and is fifth overall 15.8s adrift of top spot.
Team-mate Sebastien Loeb holds sixth after overcoming a puncture and a brush with a snow bank, which filled his DS3's air filter with snow and resulted in a loss of engine power. Out of contention for victory following his delays on day one, the defending world champion underlined his ability by recording four fastest stage times on Saturday's eight forest stages.
Kimi Raikkonen is seventh following a strong showing in his ICE 1 Racing DS3 WRC. PG Andersson slipped to eighth having covered the bulk of Saturday afternoon's stages without the aid of powersteering on his Fiesta RS WRC.
Patrik Sandell continues to punch above his weight in his Super 2000-specification Skoda Fabia in ninth overall. He could have been higher up the order but lost time when he spun into a snow bank on stage 13. With snow filling his Fabia's radiator, co-driver Staffan Parmander had to clamber out of the car to clean the obstruction. Sandell then had to travel the wrong direction up the stage to find a place to turn round and narrowly missed colliding with the pursuing Sebastien Loeb.
Matthew Wilson fought back from his powersteering woes on day one to take the final points-paying position in 10th overall in his M-Sport Fiesta.
Behind Team Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi, Martin Prokop holds 12th overnight with Dennis Kuipers 13th and Ken Block 14th after a trip into a snow bank on Saturday morning.
Sunday's opening stage, Torntorp, is due to start at 07:51hrs local time.