Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier has concluded the opening leg of Rally Sweden in the lead after putting in a superb performance in his Polo R WRC.
Ogier seized the initiative in the very first test this morning and after that was never headed, winning five of the day's six 'proper' stages and eventually ending up with a 31.4 second advantage after the second-run through the short 1.90 kilometre Karlstad super special stage this evening.
“An unbelievable day for us,” Ogier reflected. “A lead of over half a minute at the end of the first day is really a big surprise. My Polo was perfect today. Even the test in Sweden last weekend went well, but we did not know back then just how good the car is in these conditions – we know now. The team really did a fantastic job.
“Despite this, we still have not won anything. That was only day one of the Rally Sweden. The route is extremely difficult, as proven by mistakes from a number of top drivers. We still have two tough legs ahead of us, but it goes without saying that we now want to defend our lead until the end of the rally on Sunday.”
Sebastien Loeb meanwhile is 'best of the rest' for Citroen, although he was somewhat handicapped by his start position after only qualifying eighth on Thursday. Still the Frenchman set some competitive times and is currently in a good scrap with the other VW Polo of Jari-Matti Latvala. Loeb heads the Finn by 1.7 seconds going into the overnight service.
“I'm pushing but I can't do much more about Sebastien Ogier,” Loeb admitted. “There's no doubt that my starting position wasn't so good today, but that doesn't account for everything. For the time being, I'm not thinking about closing on the leader, I'm more focussed on defending my second place!”
“It is looking good for us,” Latvala added. “Our team-mate Sebastien Ogier is extremely quick, but we are not far off him. And we are involved in a close battle for second place with Sebastien Loeb. We changed the set-up of my Polo R WRC a little on the third stage, and that had a positive effect. The performance of the car is very good, but I am not quite managing to get the very best out of it in all conditions yet. The conditions were very difficult today, and the intercom system was down at times this afternoon, so we had to improvise. All in all, however, I am very happy with the result.”
Mads Ostberg is next up, 9.2 seconds off the Loeb-Latvala battle for second. The Norwegian ran strongly in his Qatar M-Sport WRT-run Ford Fiesta RS WRC, but was frustrated this morning after overheating problems hampered him in the first test. Although he made repairs and was second quickest in the following stage, he was late to the SS3 time control, and picked up a 20-second penalty. Without that, he would have been second and Ogier's closest challenger...
“We managed to take time out of Loeb and Jari-Matti all afternoon so I have to be happy with that. Considering all the dramas this morning, fourth is quite a good position for us at the moment, and I hope we can continue to catch the guys in front tomorrow,” Ostberg noted. “My target is the podium, but Ogier seems to be going really well. If he doesn't have any problem, I think he will be difficult to beat now. He has quite a good lead, but we will definitely continue pushing tomorrow.”