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 Mäkinen, 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.
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.''
Mäkinen 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 Mäkinen 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.''