Ford Abu Dhabi WRT number one Mikko Hirvonen saw his lead on Rally Sweden cut back this afternoon and he will now go into the first-ever event ending 'Power Stage' just 4.9 seconds up on Mads Ostberg.
Hirvonen struggled on the repeats runs through Torntorp and Rammen – and acting as the snow plough lost 4.5 seconds to Ostberg in SS20 and 4.3 seconds to the Norwegian in SS21. However although the Finn remains the favourite, it is by no means over.
Indeed the pressure will be well and truly on in the final 4.16 km test, as it will mark the first time there has been a 'Power Stage' – a new feature for 2011, which will not only be broadcast live around the world, but which will also reward the three quickest drivers with bonus points.
“It is going to be close,” Hirvonen admitted after the penultimate test.
Ostberg though, won't want to let second – and his first WRC podium – slip through his fingers: “I don't want to risk anything. This is a good result for me. I tried to beat Mikko, but it is not possible. I'm very happy with my driving,” he added.
Meanwhile, Jari-Matti Latvala is now on course for the final place on the podium, thanks to two quickest stages time on the trot which saw him vault ahead of both Petter Solberg and Sebastien Ogier.
Solberg and Ogier both lost ground in SS20, the former with a spin, while the latter clipped a snow bank, something he repeated in SS21. The fight for 'bronze' though isn't settled either, with just 5.1 seconds covering the three.
Further back, Sebastien Loeb is sixth, having saved his tyres for a go at maximum points on the 'Power Stage', followed by Per-Gunnar Andersson in seventh and F1 2007 world champion, Kimi Raikkonen in eighth. Britain's Matt Wilson and Khalid Al-Qassimi round out the top ten, the former having moved ahead in SS20. He is now 14 seconds in front.
In the Production Car World Rally Championship, Martin Semerad is still set to take the class honours.
Rally Sweden now concludes with the 'Power Stage', a repeat-run through Gustavsfors - starting at 15.08 hours [local time].
Rally Sweden: Overall standings after Stage 21 (Top 10):
1. Mikko Hirvonen
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC 3hours 21mins 32.5secs
2. Mads Ostberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 04.9secs
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 34.7secs
4. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +00mins 41.8secs
5. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 49.1secs
6. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +02mins 31.4secs
7. PG Andersson
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +06mins 22.1secs
8. Kimi Raikkonen
ICE 1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC +07mins 00.4secs
9. Matt Wilson
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +10mins 07.6secs
10. Khalid Al-Qassimi
Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +10mins 21.6secs
11. Patrik Sandell
Skoda Fabia S2000 +12mins 16.8secs
12. Martin Prokop
Ford Fiesta S2000 +13mins 30.3secs
13. Denis Kuipers
FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +13mins 43.1secs
14. Ken Block
Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +16mins 45.7secs
PWRC standings after Stage 21 (Top 3):
1. Martin Semerad
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 3hours 44mins 15.0secs
2. Yuriy Protasov
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +05mins 09.7secs
3. Nicolas Fuchs
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +06mins 43.4secs
SS8. Henning Solberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC Accident
SS8. Eyvind Brynildsen
Skoda Fabia S2000 Mechanical
SS12. Anders Grondal
Subaru Impreza STi Engine
EXC. Patrik Flodin
Subaru Impreza STi Excluded
all times unofficial