Ford World Rally Team's Jari-Matti Latvala has concluded the opening leg of Rally Sweden on top.
Latvala led early on this morning, before being overhauled by Mikko Hirvonen. Going into the second loop, the 26-year-old was 2.9 seconds adrift, but he fought back and gained considerable ground in SS9. He will now start the second day with a 16.8 second advantage.
“My start position strategy paid off and it was an excellent day,” Latvala summed-up. “I made a few small mistakes this morning which cost me the lead and the car oversteered a little, but that improved as the day continued. I knew I was losing time to [my team-mate] Petter [Solberg] in the penultimate stage because my studs were more worn, but I remained calm and it turned out that other drivers were losing even more.
“Today was the hardest for the tyres but the grip remained good this afternoon. I must keep pushing tomorrow and it's important to stay focused. Keeping clear of the snow banks will be key because it's all too easy to be dragged into the soft snow and become stuck,” he added.
Hirvonen meanwhile will head the chasing pack tomorrow in his Citroen DS3 WRC car, closely followed by the second works Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC car of Petter Solberg.
“The car was sliding so much [in the penultimate test, SS9] that I couldn't push. We were so close today that it is frustrating to lose so much time. Everything is still to play for, however. I'll be pushing hard tomorrow to try and catch Jari-Matti,” Hirvonen vowed.
“It was a fantastic afternoon for me,” Solberg added. “I chose to switch tyres later than everyone else. Although I lost time to everyone on the short stage [SS7] after they made their changes, I gained more time on new tyres over the next two longer tests. I also adjusted the front ride height and softened the dampers before the last long stage and it worked perfectly. I want to keep the car exactly as it is now.”
Behind Mads Ostberg still has a reasonable chance of a podium and is only 13.7 seconds off P3, followed by fellow Ford Fiesta RS WRC runners, Evgeny Novikov and Henning Solberg.
“This afternoon was okay, but on SS9 unfortunately we took only one spare and we had a problem with the tyres so one tyre on the front was worn,” Novikov noted. “There was nothing we could do and we lost over 30 seconds on one stage, so I am really very disappointed about that. Tomorrow we will drive with the same speed we had today and hopefully we can make up some time.”
Sebastien Loeb finishes the day out of position and in seventh, after losing just under 2 minutes this afternoon when he went off the road in his Citroen DS3 WRC and got stuck in a snow bank in Kirkener 2.