Harri Rovanpera became the latest Finn to join the winners' circle on a world championship rally, when the 32 year old held off all challengers to take his maiden victory - on his debut for the Peugeot team.

Rovanpera finished 27.9sec ahead of Thomas Radstrom (Mitsubishi), also on his first drive for his team. But the biggest loser was Radstrom's team-mate, Tommi M?kinen, who rolled out of a secure second just 2km into the final stage.

Early-morning snow threatened to spoil overnight leader Rovanpera's chances of staving off four-times world champion Makinen, since the first two days of the event had punished the driver running first on the road.

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But the Peugeot driver shunned the formbook, stretching his lead by five seconds on each of the day's first two stages. "I'm surprised to take so much time out of Tommi but I wasn't too worried about position on the road today anyway," he commented at the time. "He's only one place behind me so there shouldn't be too big a difference. I'm trying not to think of the win yet, because we still have a few stages left.''

M?kinen closed the gap slightly in SS15, but Rovanpera fought back in the following test to build a cushion of nearly 19 seconds with just the final, 21km stage remaining. He paced himself perfectly while M?kinen went off, so Rovanpera's eventual winning margin was nearly half a minute.

''I'm absolutely delighted," grinned Rovanpera. "I said before the start that I felt Santa Claus had come a bit late with this deal, and now I know I'm right! The car has been fantastic with virtually no problems at all, and even though I'm still learning more about it on every stage I already know it's the best car I've ever driven. I can't wait for Portugal now - I was strong there last year and I think we can do even better this time.''

The other works 206 WRC, driven by 1994 world champion Didier Auriol, started the day in sixth place but the Frenchman, still suffering from bronchitis, was forced into retirement when he suffered transmission problems on the day's third stage.

The privately-entered 206 WRC of young Finn Toni Gardemeister fared better, however. The 25-year old revelled in today's snowy conditions, passing the factory cars of Petter Solberg and Francois Delecour to bring his car back to Karlstad in fourth place and earn three world championship points to add to the two he scored in Monte Carlo last month.

Peugeot Total team principal Corrado Provera added: ''We're delighted for Harri and Risto, more talent spotted by Jean-Pierre Nicolas! And Toni did a fantastic drive as well. But the taste is strange because we still haven't a point in the manufacturers' championship, our main target. We still have work to do, even more than ever towards reliability because the car has shown that its performance is good enough.''

Thomas Radstrom and Tina Thorner drove their Mitsubishi Carisma GT fantastically, only one slide off the road yesterday marring an otherwise faultless performance. The Swedes were locked in a massive battle with double World Champion Carlos Sainz today, but local expertise kept them ahead of Ford's Spanish driver.

''It's a very nice result,'' smiled Thomas. ''We were fighting hard for third place and unexpectedly managed to get second and maximum points for Mitsubishi. The last stage was the most difficult one I've ever done on this rally. It was like an ice-hockey rink in parts, but we made it to the finish and are both very pleased."

Radstrom continued: "I'd seen all the marks in the snowbanks going through the stage and for every one Tommi made, we made another. The car was all over the place, it was so slippery. Then, when we passed Tommi and saw him off the road, I knew we absolutely had to get the points for the team. The pressure was on, I was anxious not to get passed by Carlos and I was shaking like a leaf the whole stage!''

Co-driver Tina Thorner added: ''The car is a little diamond, and Thomas has driven fantastically well. We've been fighting since the first day, with no team orders, and I don't think it could have been better if we'd won.''

Registered team-mates Tommi Makinen and Risto Mannisenmaki powered their Lancer Evolution through today's snow dusted stages, hot on the heels of Rovanpera from the outset. With just one stage remaining however, and awareness that he was unlikely to catch the flying Finn, Tommi made an uncharacteristic mistake, sliding off the road and into retirement less than 20 kilometres from the finish.

''The tyre choice was very good, we were very happy with that, but we simply made a mistake and went off the road,'' admitted Tommi. ''It was quite a fast section and the car was completely off in a snowbank, there was no way to recover. Very disappointing, obviously.''

After a frustrating opening day, Freddy Loix and Sven Smeets have enjoyed better fortune and matched the exact pace of Tommi and Thomas in at least one stage today. The Belgian Carisma GT crew have climbed up the leaderboard from an overnight 16th to finish 13th and gain useful experience of the fast Swedish roads.

''We had a very difficult first day with some stupid mistakes in difficult conditions, but after that it was getting better and better,'' said Freddy. ''It's an acceptable result, but we still have work to do. I'm pleased for Thomas and Tina though.''

With two of the 14 rounds completed, Mitsubishi has extended its lead in the Manufacturers' Championship and has a nine point advantage over Ford. Tommi Makinen, Carlos Sainz and Harri Rovanpera are also tied at the top of the World Championship standings with 10 points.

Ford Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya finished third to move to the head of the FIA World Rally Championship standings. The Spanish duo were forced to use all their experience behind the wheel of their Focus during a dramatic final day to earn their fifth podium finish in six years in Sweden.

Sainz started the final leg amid a four-car battle for victory and edged ever closer to third-placed Thomas Radstrom, starting the final special stage just 4.2sec behind the Swede. Sainz could not catch him but still secured a well-deserved third following the demise of Tommi M?kinen in the final few kilometres.

''There have been many ups and downs in this rally but third is a good result for me and the points keep Ford in a strong position in the manufacturers' championship,'' said 38-year-old Sainz. ''We tried very hard to catch Thomas in the last stage but conditions were very tricky with snow lying on top of icy ruts. It's encouraging to come away at the top of the championship after the two most unpredictable rallies of the series and we must now capitalise on that start.''

McRae, whose incredible run of seven fastest times ensured Ford scored more stage victories than any other team for the second consecutive event, climbed back from 49th following his first day accident. He almost secured eighth but with Kenneth Eriksson in his sights, a spin and a problem with the hydraulic gearchange system on the final stage meant he had to settle for ninth.

The 32-year-old Scot spun and stalled his Focus after 4km and then a further 6km into the 21.21km test a connector in the gearchange system became dislodged, forcing the hydraulics to lock the gearbox in sixth gear.

''After losing so much time on the first day and having to come from so far back, it's quite satisfying to score points for the team,'' said McRae. ''That was my only target. It was an exciting rally and during our run of fastest times, the feeling was fantastic. We were having fun, driving quickly in superb conditions and taking time back from everyone. We had a few troubles today but we still scored points for Ford and that was what mattered.''

Delecour was disappointed not to finish fourth following Makinen's retirement but delighted with the performance of his Focus. ''It's one of the trickiest rallies in the championship,'' he said. ''We had to drive the final stage with the mechanical gearchange system which wasn't easy in such conditions but a points finish is good.''

Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson was happy with the outcome. ''Colin's first day mishap was expensive from a victory point of view but he drove with great determination and motivation to fight back. Carlos drove well, as always, and deserved his reward. Pirelli's tyres were excellent in the snow but we suffered a little on the more gravely conditions found in the stages that were repeated,'' he said.

Richard Burns claimed all five fastest times of the day in his Subaru Impreza, only ever challenged by his young team-mate Markko Martin, who rose above his troubles of the past two days to set some blindingly quick times.

"Since our excursion into the snow on SS2, we have retained our motivation on the stages - it is always 100% attack," remarked Burns. "The strange thing has been that there is no buzz, no fight to focus on once the stage is over. But we have made good use of the time - yesterday we worked on some settings, but today we just went at it hard to see what we could achieve. At least we have clearly established that the new Subaru Impreza can be the quickest car out there and that Pirelli have the best winter tyre."

In an improvement of Subaru's fortunes, Petter Solberg drove a contained rally in a mature fashion to earn the team four manufacturer's points. "I know I can drive fast, but for me this has been the hardest rally ever," remarked Solberg. "I just had to make sure that I finished the job for the team, and as an extra prize, I won a point too. It started so badly here, but the rally just got better and better."

"I was taking it reasonably easy today, and I was really surprised to see that except for Richard we were often the quickest car," commented Martin. "After our difficulties on the first day, the rally has just got better and better for us, and it is great to get the car home, even though we span 500m from the finish of the last stage."

Hyundai Castrol World Rally Team driver Kenneth Eriksson fought through the final five stages of the International Swedish rally to bring his Accent WRC to the finish in eighth overall, collecting a further three manufacturer points for the Korean marque.

Eriksson had a fight on his hands today, battling to keep ahead of Colin McRae to hold onto his three-manufacturer point position. Beginning the day in an overnight position of tenth, he has had to push to the maximum to save every second possible. Going into the final stage of the day with McRae only 7.2 seconds behind him, the Swede rose to the challenge and turned up the heat on himself and his Accent WRC by setting the second fastest stage time.

"I have been fighting very hard all day - I've been flat out at maximum attack," said an ecstatic Eriksson. "I had no choice as I had to keep Colin [McRae] behind me and he's been setting excellent times for the whole rally. The conditions were perfect on the stages and the car also felt perfect all day."

"On stage 15 I pushed a little bit too hard in one place and slid wide, hitting a snow bank that slowed me down. At the beginning of stage 16 the engine stalled three times so I lost time restarting each time," he continued. "The last stage was very difficult with lots of snow - I slid a bit in the fast corners but kept a clear line in the slower ones and basically focused on not making any mistakes."

Heavy snowfall continued for the duration of the day and provided a dusting to coat the already hard and icy stages this morning and added to the already snowy final stage. "I used full snow tyres on the last stage which worked in my favour," commented Eriksson. "I have been happy with my tyre choices throughout the rally. The Michelins have been performing perfectly providing excellent grip and I haven't had any problem with stud retention. It was a bit disappointing to have lost time yesterday but overall I am very pleased with my result."

Team principal, David Whitehead said, "After the disappointment of losing time on the second day, to come back and take fourth place in the manufacturers' championship is an excellent result. It's a testament to Kenneth's perseverance and the reliability and performance of the first generation Hyundai Accent WRC on its swansong event.

Kenneth concluded, "This is an excellent final event for the first generation car and I am now looking forward to spending time in the new car ready for Portugal where it will debut."

The Hyundai Castrol Rally Team Norway crew Kristian Kolberg and Anders Dawidson had a good final day setting confident stage times in what have been very difficult and demanding conditions, to bring their Hyundai Accent WRC to the finish in 21st position overall. "I have really enjoyed this event - it's my first WRC event and I am just pleased to finish it. It has certainly been very good experience for me to continue with the remainder of the Norwegian Rally Championship," commented Kolberg.

Skoda's Bruno Thiry finished the Rally of Sweden in tenth position, netting the final manufacturers point for Skoda Motorsports, while teammate Armin Schwarz retired from the event.

"I found a good pace on the opening two stages and was pleased with the feel of the car," said the Belgian earlier in the day. "The combination of falling snow and the high speeds of the stages have made this morning a real challenge but Stephane and myself are both really enjoying this event."

Group N.

Group N driver Stig-Olov Walfridsson comes from Torsby in the heart of Swedish Rally territory and was a popular victor in his Carisma GT.

It was his third category victory on his home rally and achieved by a convincing margin. ''We had quite a big lead after the second leg, so today we have been quite careful, trying to concentrate and not to go too much in the snowbanks. I am really pleased with this result. The rally has been almost perfect,'' Walfridsson said.

Arch-rival and fellow countryman Kenneth Backlund finished a strong second, driving another Carisma GT. Illness blunted his challenge during the final leg, but he still finished in the top 20 places, against highly modified opposition. ''I haven't felt so good today, but we have done our best and I think it is still a good result. It's a shame we went off the road a little bit yesterday, but Stig-Olov has driven very well and our car has been good,'' Backlund stated.

One of the world's greatest rally drivers, Stig Blomqvist, celebrated his 32nd Swedish Rally with a fine third place in Group N in his Carisma GT. In the process, he was also second in the Teams Cup, beating many World Rally Cars. ''I must say it has been a very nice rally and everything has gone quite well. We had a good fight with Mats Jonsson at first, but he dropped back and today has been not too difficult, in spite of the weather,'' Blomqvist commented.

Former winner Mats Jonsson made it four Swedes in the top four, driving yet another Carisma GT, with Lithuania's Saulius Girdauskas completing the top five in his Carisma GT. Natalie Barratt was the top female driver home in her first outing in a brand new Carisma GT.