Sebastien Ogier took the spoils on Rally Sweden on Sunday to give Volkswagen its very first win with the Polo R WRC.
Ogier, who took the runners-up spot on the season opener in Monte Carlo last month, began by setting the pace in qualifying and although he was then only ninth in the short Karlstad super special, which kicked off proceedings on Thursday night, he soon re-asserted his dominance.
Indeed he seized the initiative in the very first test on Friday morning and after that was never headed, winning five of the first day's six 'proper' stages and eventually ending up with a 31.4 second advantage after SS8.
On Saturday, Ogier saw his lead trimmed to 25.2 seconds on the first loop, however, on the repeat runs, the Frenchman left no doubt as to who was in charge, setting the joint quickest time in SS13, before winning outright SS14 and SS15. The Polo R WRC pilot then concluded the day with the second best time in SS16, leaving him with a 26.9 second advantage going into the final day.
That meant he could pace himself to the finish, and while Sebastien Loeb tried to apply the pressure first thing and took a hat-trick of stages wins on the first loop, Ogier resisted, and eventually triumphed by 41.8 seconds, winning the event ending Power Stage just for good measure.
It was a historic result, as not only was its VW's first WRC win with the Polo, and in only the team's second WRC event with it, but it was also only the second time a non-Scandinavian has triumphed in Sweden. Ogier now moves to the top of the WRC drivers' championship.
“It was a perfect weekend,” Ogier told WRC Live
at the finish. “It is unbelievable. We never expected this. It is a big surprise, but I feel good.”
Loeb meanwhile had to be content with the runners-up spot after his poor run in qualifying on Thursday cost him dear. That left the Frenchman out of position on day one and as a result he conceded too much time to Ogier. Although he was right back on the pace on the two subsequent days, he was unable to get back on level terms.
“A bad time in qualifying and a not so good road position on Friday hurt me,” Loeb admitted. “I had a good rhythm, but Ogier made no mistakes. He drove the perfect rally. There was nothing more to do.”
Behind, Mads Ostberg gave the Qatar M-Sport WRT its first podium result. The Norwegian had hoped to challenge for the win, but he lost precise time on Friday morning with overheating problems. That landed him with a 20-second penalty and while he hauled himself back up with a string of competitive stage times, taking third from Jari-Matti Latvala in SS14 on Saturday, he could do nothing about Loeb and Ogier ahead.
“I didn't lose total faith [on Friday],” Ostberg insisted, “But it was a big fight to get back into third. I am very pleased to have won the battle with Jari-Matti. It is a great feeling.”
Latvala in contrast was a bit disappointed with fourth in the second Volkswagen and while he showed flashes of speed – including winning SS10 on Saturday – he has still to get to grips with the Polo R WRC: “My driving hasn't been so great,” said the Finn. “I haven't found it (the speed) yet. But it is good to get points for the team and myself. I had a good feeling in the last stage too.”
Thierry Neuville rounded out the top-five after a very solid performance for the Qatar WRT, one spot ahead of team-mate, Juho Hanninen. Fellow Ford Fiesta RS WRC runners Martin Prokop and WRC returnee Henning Solberg were seventh and eighth, with Evgeny Novikov eventually taking ninth after an off in SS20. The Russian had been fifth pretty much throughout until that late mistake.
WRC2 class winner Yazeed Al-Rajhi took the final senior WRC drivers' point in tenth in his Ford Fiesta RRC, having overhauled Anders Grondal this morning. Sepp Weigand was third in WRC2.
Of the rest, Michal Kosciousko took 14th in his Lotos Team WRC-run MINI John Cooper Works WRC, with Citroen's Mikko Hirvonen 17th. Hirvonen had been one of the pre-event favourites, but he went off in the first test on Friday and got stuck in a snow bank, losing over 20 minutes. Matt Wilson, who was drafted in late for an unwell Khalid Al-Attiyah, also had some problems on day one and then suffered another off on Saturday. He was eventually classified 27th, re-starting today under the Rally 2 regulations.
In terms of major retirements, four notable drivers' failed to finish, namely Pontus Tidemand, Khalid Al-Qassimi, Jari Ketomaa and Dani Sordo. Tidemand starred early on and was sixth overall until engine problems forced him out in SS9 on Saturday. Khalid Al-Qassimi also retired on day two after an off in SS14. Ketomaa had to pull out this morning as his co-driver was ill, while Sordo, who was running eighth overall today, went off and got stuck in a snow bank in SS20, with just two stages remaining.
The WRC now moves to Mexico next month for round three, with that event running from March 8-10.
To view the result for the 2013 Rally Sweden - CLICK HERE