Mikko Hirvonen has retained the lead of Rally Sweden following the Saturday morning loop of stages, although three wins out of four have allowed Sebastien Loeb to close the gap to the Finn at the mid-day service.
Hirvonen made light of his position as the first car on the road to set the pace through the opening stage of the morning, but then saw Loeb fight back with the quickest time on SS10 – which was delayed due to the volume of spectators who had emerged to watch the action – and SS11.
The Frenchman then made it a hat-trick of stage wins on the short Hagfors Sprint test to close the gap to Hirvonen to 4.2 seconds going into the repeat loop this afternoon. Hirvonen's advantage would have been slightly greater had he not stalled at the start of the 1.87km stage.
"It's great fun to be involved in such a big fight for the lead," Hirvonen said. "My only mistake came when I stalled at the start of the short stage. The roads were in good condition but when we drive them again this afternoon I think they will be badly rutted with gravel coming through the ice. That will be tough, and I'll need to look after my tyres well to ensure we keep the studs in."
Loeb admitted he was unsure how Hirvonen had managed to double his advantage to more than ten seconds on the opening stage of the morning but responded in the best possible fashion to set up an interesting battle during the afternoon.
Having been in contention himself overnight, Dani Sordo slipped back after an error on SS11 saw him clip a snowbank at high-speed, damaging the rear of his car and causing him to drop 15 seconds. He now sits just over half a minute away from Hirvonen, although the Spaniard admitted he had feared his rally may have been at an end.
"We were going so fast in sixth when we hit the bank, then there was snow everywhere and I remember seeing trees and thinking it's finished now," he said. "Then, somehow, we were back in the middle of the road and we were alright. It's incredible!"
Jari-Matti Latvala remains fourth but was unable to take advantage of Sordo's issue as he struggled for pace during the morning, while Sebastien Ogier continues to run in fifth place despite losing the rear wing on his C4 WRC during the first stage of the morning. Henning Solberg, Mads Ostberg, Matthew Wilson and PG Andersson continue to fill positions six through to nine, with the only change in the top ten seeing Andreas Mikkelsen move ahead of Janne Tuohino.
After his issues on day one, Henning Solberg has climbed back up to eleventh place and is now a matter of seconds away from breaking into the points, while Marcus Gronholm is into the top 25 after a solid morning which included a second quickest time on SS10. Kimi Raikkonen continues to run outside the top 40 after a brief trip off the road on the same stage saw him drop a further minute.
Andersson continues to lead in the SWRC, with Patrik Flodin maintaining his advantage in the PWRC battle.
Overall standings after SS12 (Top 10):
1. Mikko Hirvonen
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 01hours 41mins 15.4secs
2. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 04.2secs
3. Dani Sordo
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 35.9secs
4. Jari-Matti Latvala
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +00mins 57.1secs
5. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +01mins 59.5secs
6. Henning Solberg
Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +02mins 57.9secs
7. Mads Ostberg
Adapta Subaru Impreza WRC +04mins 34.5secs
8. Matthew Wilson
Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +04mins 43.2secs
9. PG Andersson
Skoda Fabia S2000 +06mins 50.0secs
10. Andreas Mikkelsen
Ford Fiesta S2000 +07mins 48.8secs
11. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +07mins 50.7secs
24. Marcus Gronholm
Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +13mins 06.7secs
42. Kimi Raikkonen
Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +33mins 05.5secs
SWRC Standings after SS12 (Top 3):
1. PG Andersson
Skoda Fabia S2000 01hours 48mins 05.4secs
2. Janne Tuohino
Ford Fiesta S2000 +01mins 01.5secs
3. Martin Prokop
Ford Fiesta S2000 +01mins 44.1secs
PWRC Standings after SS12 (Top 3):
1. Patrik Flodin
Subaru Impreza 01hours 51mins 20.6secs
2. Anders Grondal
Subaru Impreza +00mins 38.0secs
3. Armindo Araujo
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +03mins 00.4secs