M-Sport Stobart Ford man Mads Ostberg has taken the lead on Rally Sweden this morning following the first three 'proper' tests.
Ostberg, who was sixth quickest in the short Karlstad SSS last night, grabbed the lead immediately today, when he set the pace in SS2, the 24.63 kilometre-run through Vargåsen 1. The Norwegian then extended his lead in SS3, when he was second quickest, before finishing the loop as he had started it, with another quickest time. He now goes into Service B in Hagfors with a 24.8 second cushion over his nearest rival.
"This is fantastic!" Ostberg said. "I'm feeling very good and I am confident driving this car. I trust the pace notes, I trust my co-driver and most of all I trust the fantastic car that I am driving. I really pushed in the first stage but since then I've not been taking any risks but everything has just been going better and better for us.
"For sure, I've been able to take advantage of my good road position but I think if we continue to follow the lines and keep the same set-up it will be a good afternoon. We will run with two spares this afternoon, just as a precaution, but we have really been enjoying ourselves out on the stages this morning.”
Mikko Hirvonen meanwhile is 'best of the rest', despite only having been second in SS2 and fourth in SS3 and SS4: "My start position helped but conditions are still incredibly difficult," noted the Ford Abu Dhabi WRT #1. "Everything worked perfectly and the handling was great, but trying to learn a new car in such difficult weather isn't easy. I had a few close escapes and came close to spinning in slow corners on several occasions. Perhaps I was too cautious in places as a result, but I made no mistakes and that's important."
Petter Solberg completes the top-three, albeit more than 30 seconds further back in his privately entered Citroen DS3 WRC: “It is so very difficult, the conditions change all the time. It was fun to drive a short bit into Norway and I can tell you we made a good show for the spectators,” continued 'Hollywood', who was later handed a ten second penalty for being late at the time control after the mid-day service.
Next up is Jari-Matti Latvala, 24.2 seconds off the final place on the podium after he spun in SS4 and lost more than 20 seconds: “I knew it was going to be tough because there was so much loose snow and so little grip,” Latvala explained. “It made the roads narrower than on the recce and I touched the snow banks in many corners. I had a big spin about 7km after the start in Løvhaugen which removed the rear spoiler.
“After a crest the car touched a snow bank and spun through more than 360º. I kept the revs high and fortunately we didn't get stuck, but I was lucky. Because the car is so short it moves around quickly, and I have to react much faster than I needed to with the Ford Focus last season.”
Patrik Sandell rounds out the top five after an impressive performance in his Skoda Fabia S2000, followed by M-Sport Stobart man, Henning Solberg and fellow Fabia S2000 runner, Eyvind Brynildsen. Sebastien Ogier heads the 'works' Citroens, 11.7 seconds up on his team-mate, Sebastien Loeb, who lost time running first in the order.