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."

Behind, Evgeny Novikov rounds out the top-five in the second Qatar M-Sport WRT entry, the Russian 29.4 seconds off his team-mate.

"There are a lot of different lines on the stages so it has been tricky to follow the correct lines at times, but everything is fine," Novikov remakred. "We lost a bit of time on the middle stage [SS6] when Dani went off the road and then we didn't have the best tyre choice for the last stage [SS7]. We only took one spare, and in hindsight it might have been better to go with two. But having said that, we didn't lose too much time and we now have more options for the following days. It's been a good day with no real dramas, so we will continue to fight like this tomorrow."

Pontus Tidemand impressed on his first WRC event in a World Rally Car and ran as high as fourth this morning. He slipped back this afternoon, but remains a very solid sixth in his Ford Fiesta RS WRC: "It feels fantastic," he said post-SS8, "it feels good [to have done what we have today], but we still need to keep focused."

Juho Hanninen and Thierry Neuville are seventh and eighth, while Henning Solberg is ninth on his return to the WRC, one spot ahead of Martin Prokop. Dani Sordo is just outside the top-ten after an off this afternoon in SS6.

"It was pretty much the same as everyone else, we lost the back end and we ended up stuck in a snow bank," Sordo recounted. "Fortunately for us, there were a lot of spectators and we were able to get on our way again pretty easily. It really hasn't been a straightforward day. I never found the right feeling with the car."

Sordo was not the only WRC front runner in trouble, as Matt Wilson, Michal Kosciousko, Khalid Al-Qassimi, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarkko Nikara also got caught out and end the day way down the order.

In WRC2, Anders Grondal took the lead in SS4 in his Subaru Impreza and he is now 32.4 seconds up on Yazeed Al-Rajhi. Sepp Wiegand is third.

Rally Sweden now continues on Saturday, with two loops of four stages on the bill and a total competitive distance of 114.02 kilometres. SS9, Sagen 1, is due to start at 08.47 hours local time [07.47 hours British time].

Rally Sweden: Overall standings after Stage 8 (Top 10):

1. Sebastien OgierVolkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC1h 16m 00.1s M
2. Sebastien LoebCitroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC+31.4s M
3. Jari-Matti LatvalaVolkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC+33.1s M
4. Mads OstbergQatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC+42.3s M
5. Evgeny NovikovQatar M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC+1m 11.7s M
6. Pontus TidemandFord Fiesta WRC+1m 22.1s
7. Juho Hanninen Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 49.5s
8. Thierry Neuville Qatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +2m 00.2s T
9. Henning SolbergFord Fiesta RS WRC+3m 25.3s
10. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National TeamFord Fiesta RS WRC+4m 43.3s T


11. Dani SordoAbu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +6m 47.3s
12. Anders GrondalSubaru Impreza+7m 13.5s WRC2
13. Yazeed Al-RajhiFord Fiesta RRC+7m 46.1s WRC2
14. Michal SolowowPeugeot 207 S2000+7m 54.3s
15. Sepp WiegandSkoda Fabia S2000+8m 55.7s WRC2
17. Matthew WilsonQatar WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC+11m 04.8s
20. Michal KosciouskoLotos Team WRC MINI John Cooper Works WRC +14m 20.0s T
27. Khalid Al-QassimiAbu Dhabi Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC+18m 07.6s T
32. Mikko HirvonenCitroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC+25m 53.0s M
39. Jarkko NikaraProdrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC+48m 32.7s

WRC2 standings after Stage 8 (Top 3):

1. Anders GrondalSubaru Impreza1h 23m 13.6s WRC2
2. Yazeed Al-RajhiFord Fiesta RRC+32.6s WRC2
3. Sepp WiegandSkoda Fabia S2000+1m 42.2s WRC2

Notable retirements:

SS5. Jari KetomaaFord Fiesta RS WRCMechanical

all times unofficial



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