Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala has come through to win Rally Sweden, the second round in the 2014 World Rally Championship.
It was his third win on the event, as he took his debut WRC triumph in Karlstad back in 2008 and also won in 2012 too.
Latvala moved to the fore on Friday morning in SS10, but team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen remained a threat and the two concluded the second leg split by just 3.6 seconds.
On Saturday though, Latvala made his experience count, winning all four stages on the opening loop. That combined with a mistake from Mikkelsen - who he went off and lost around 20 seconds in SS18 – effectively decided the matter.
Jari-Matti then had a 42.7 second advantage for the repeats – reduced by one stage when SS21 was cancelled – and he duly swept through to claim the win, finishing 53.6 seconds ahead. The result moves him to the top of the Drivers' Championship – 5 points up on Sebastien Ogier.
“What can I say? It feels amazing to win this rally. I have won it twice before and now this is the first time I have won a rally three times,” Latvala told WRC Live at the finish. “It is something very, very special. It all started here in 2008 and it has been a long time since Greece [when I won last summer] – it is a big relief.
“The Acropolis win was more about saving the car, [but] this was a high speed event and so now we see I can also win the high speed rallies [too]. I have really been concentrating.
"I really needed this good result!!”
Mikkelsen meanwhile wasn't disappointed with second and put in a brilliant performance in his Polo R WRC en-route
to his first ever WRC podium. Indeed he was a real contender for the victory until SS18 and in the end post 13 top-three times, including winning SS1, SS4, SS6 and SS16.
“This is absolutely fantastic,” said the Volkswagen Motorsport II pilot. “I really loved coming here to my home and my family and friends and driving so well. Achieving this great result is more than I could have dreamed of. We are so extremely happy.”
Behind, Mads Ostberg secured the final place on the rostrum in his Citroen DS3 WRC car, just 5.9 seconds back.
Ostberg ran in P3 from SS8 onwards and while he struggled a bit on Thursday, he found more confidence as the event progressed culminating with two stages wins late on – including triumphing in the Power Stage: “It [the final test] was a good stage for me. Overall I think it has been really great for me. I'm so pleased to be third in this rally [and take my first Power Stage win],” he remarked.
Behind, M-Sport World Rally Team pilot Mikko Hirvonen was a distant fourth in his Fiesta RS WRC car. He ran solidly throughout but was never in contention for the victory.
Ott Tanak rounded out the top five, 33.6 seconds further back, putting in a very good showing, especially considering his last outing in the WRC was more than twelve months ago: “I was really worried but I proved I can drive fast [this weekend]. I'm really happy,” he commented.
2013 WRC champion Sebastien Ogier recovered to finish sixth. The Frenchman ended day one on top - 5.8 seconds up on Mikkelsen. However a 'stupid mistake' in the first test on Friday, cost him 4.5 minutes and he dropped from P1 to P20. Six stages wins after that though, helped him haul his Polo R WRC back into the points and on the final day he continued to make headway, overhauling Henning Solberg in the penultimate stage. Solberg finished 17.6 seconds back.
“It has been a really long twelve months [since I last competed here in the WRC] and I hope I will be back as soon as possible again,” Henning said.
2013 Junior World Rally champion Pontus Tidemand was eighth, with Brits Craig Breen and Kris Meeke ninth and tenth respectively. Meeke had been running sixth overall until he went off into a snowbank in SS18. That dropped him to P14 and he looked set to just miss out on a point, until fellow countryman Elfyn Evans went off in the last stage.
Evans wasn't the only runner in trouble on the final day, as the leg also claimed fellow Fiesta RS WRC runner Martin Prokop. He was forced out in SS22.
Robert Kubica meanwhile had another off, and after two mistakes on Friday, finished down in 24th position.
Hyundai duo Juho Hanninen and Thierry Neuville were classified 19th and 28th – both finishing under Rally 2 after damaging their i20 WRCs in Lesjofors on Friday. It meant Hyundai at least scored points in the Manufacturers'.
In WRC2, Karl Kruuda snatched victory from Jari Ketomaa in the very final test, making up 18.7 seconds to win by 2.3 seconds. Fredrik Ahlin took third in the class, while long time leader, Yazeed Al-Rajhi came home fourth after an off in SS22 and after rolling his car in SS23. Yuriy Protasov was fifth.
The 2014 FIA World Rally Championship now heads to Mexico next month for the first gravel rally of the season, running from March 6-9.
To view the result for Rally Sweden 2014 - CLICK HERE