Citroen's Mads Ostberg set the top time this morning in the shakedown for Rally Sweden, the second round in the 2014 World Rally Championship.
Ostberg, who is hoping to fight for the victory on his 'home' event [see separate story - HERE
], completed the 3.99 km Rada test in 1 minute 55.8 seconds in his DS3 WRC car, putting him 0.4 seconds up on Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala.
"It's motivating to drive on these roads. Our result in Monte-Carlo has given us confidence and the feeling in the car is very good," Ostberg told Citroen's official website. "We're aiming to finish on the podium but we want to win, the team wants to win and I think a lot of our supporters want that too!”
"It's perhaps a bit easier when there's some gravel," he added, when asked about the relatively mild conditions and the lack of snow. "Above all else, it's a question of looking after the studs. In terms of driving, it's probably even more enjoyable. There is a lot of grip on the very hard ground. I like these conditions."
Kris Meeke meanwhile came in third in the sister DS3 WRC car, despite going off on his second run. His mechanics, however, were able to fix his car and he duly posted a 1m 56.6s effort next time out.
"The grip was very good on the racing line, but as soon as you step out of the lines you end up aquaplaning. That's more or less what happened this morning," said Meeke, who is taking in his very first snow rally this week. “We went off on a right-hand corner. We slid wide onto the snow and off the road. The spectators helped us to get going again, but we hit a rock so the steering was slightly damaged. It was a timely reminder of the difficulties of this rally! Fortunately, we were able to keep driving.”
"In Sweden, the only way to learn is to rack up the miles," he continued. "You need to have raced here for several years before you can be competitive. So my aim is to build up my experience, the result is not important. Nobody manages to be quick at their first Rally Sweden."
Henning Solberg was next up in fourth – in his first WRC event in over a year, with Thierry Neuville, Craig Breen, Juho Hanninen, Michal Solowow, Robert Kubica and Yuriy Protasov in positions 5 through to 10.
2013 WRC champion and Rallye Monte Carlo winner Sebastien Ogier was only 12th in his Polo R WRC, while M-Sport's Mikko Hirvonen finished down in 31st – although both said they took it easy to save tyres.
“I'm sorry for the spectators, but we want our [studded] tyres for the rally proper,” Hirvonen told rally-magazin.de
“I wanted to go in first [in the shakedown] to see the conditions that will await me tomorrow and I set my best time then, so it is rather positive. Then we drove slower [on the subsequent runs] to save the tyres. This rally looks very complicated [due to the weather],” Ogier added according to best-of-rallylive.com
The opening test is now due to take place this evening at 20.04 hours local time [19.04 hours UK time], when competitors will tackle the short 1.90km Karlstad super special.
The event then starts 'proper' tomorrow [Thursday] with six special stages on the bill and just over 60 competitive kilometres.
Rally Sweden: Shakedown (Top 10):
1. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC 1m 55.8s
2. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 1m 56.2s
3. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC 1m 56.6s
4. Henning Solberg
Ford Fiesta RS WRC 1m 57.2s
5. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC 1m 58.0s
6. Craig Breen
Ford Fiesta RS WRC 1m 58.4s
7. Juho Hanninen
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC 1m 59.9s
8. Michal Solowow
Ford Fiesta RS WRC 2m 01.0s
9. Robert Kubica
RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC 2m 01.4s
10. Yuriy Protasov
Ford Fiesta R5 2m 02.7s
12. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 2m 03.1s
31. Mikko Hirvonen
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC 2m 23.9s
32. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC 2m 24.9s
all times unofficial