Mikko Hirvonen has taken the first victory of a new era in the World Rally Championship by winning Rally Sweden for the second consecutive year. The Finnish factory Ford driver defeated surprise package Mads Ostberg to win by a margin of just six and a half seconds after 22 stages.
The rally got underway on Thursday evening with a superspecial stage in Karlstad, which was won by privateer P-G Andersson, the Swede being one of nine drivers starting the rally in one of Ford's brand new Fiesta RS WRC, developed for the revised WRC regulations. Andersson had relied upon donations from fans to start his home rally in a one-off appearance.
It was another of the Ford Fiesta drivers, Ostberg, who then took the lead at the start of Friday's action. The M-Sport Stobart team driver won SS2 and SS4, and was a close second to Andersson on SS3. This gave the Norwegian an impressive 24.8 second lead over Hirvonen at midday service. Andersson had rolled on SS2 and suffered a puncture on SS4 that had left him nearly five minutes off the lead.
Ostberg extended his lead to 32s through SS5, but lost a significant chunk of his lead on SS7 when his lightpod became dislodged early on in heavy snow, causing visibility problems. This gave him a 14.8s lead over Hirvonen at the end of the first leg.
Hirvonen trimmed this lead throughout Saturday morning, taking the lead from Ostberg on the fourth and final stage of the morning loop prior to service. Hirvonen was unable to significantly stretch his lead though through the five remaining stages of the day, leaving his overnight lead standing at 7.4s.
Hirvonen won all three stages on the Sunday morning, despite running first on the road, to pull away from Ostberg. However, Hirvonen started losing time on the afternoon stages, leaving himself an advantage of just 4.9s going into the final stage. He was able to beat Ostberg on the stage though to seal victory, his first since last year's Rally Sweden.
The new generation World Rally Cars provided extremely close competition amongst the frontrunners. Although Hirvonen and Ostberg had been in a class of their own on the opening day, the pursuing trio of Petter Solberg, Jari-Matti Latvala and Sebastien Ogier had all closed to within 15 seconds of the lead going into the final day.
Despite limited testing in the new DS3 WRC, Solberg was the pick of the four Citroen drivers throughout much of the rally. He had been set for third place before losing the position on SS20 with a spin. In a bizarre turn of events, the Norwegian privateer later had to hand over control of his car to co-driver Chris Patterson for the final road section and special stage, having been caught speeding by police earlier in the event and prevented from driving. Patterson guided the car through the stage to allow the pair to finish fifth.
Ford’s Latvala came out on top over Citroen driver Ogier to claim the final podium position. Ogier was able to claim three bonus points though by winning the 'Power Stage', a new initiative where the final stage is shown live on TV with bonus points awarded to the top three finishers.
Sebastien Loeb finished second on the Power Stage with Latvala in third. Loeb had endured a quiet event in which he was unable to challenge for the victory. The World Champion finished the rally down in sixth.
Andersson recovered back up to seventh position after his problems on the first day, although power steering issues on Saturday meant that he lost this position, temporarily, to Kimi Raikkonen, before regaining it on Sunday morning. Raikkonen himself was impressive on Saturday afternoon, setting multiple top six stage times in his Ice 1 Racing-entered Citroen DS3.
Matthew Wilson (M-Sport Stobart) came out on top in a close battle with another Fiesta WRC driver Khalid Al Qassimi (Abu Dhabi) over ninth and the final points scoring positions. Of the other three Fiesta drivers, Dennis Kuipers (FERM) and Ken Block (Monster) made it to the finish in 13th and 14th respectively, while Henning Solberg crashed out of fifth position on Saturday morning in the remaining M-Sport Stobart entry.
While Rally Sweden was not a rally counting towards S-WRC points, Super 2000 Skoda drivers Patrik Sandell and Eyvind Brynildsen were impressively fast on Friday's stages, ending the opening morning in fifth and seventh positions. After this the pair began to drop back, Sandell eventually finishing 11th and Brynildsen retiring with engine failure on Saturday morning.
Martin Semerad took a comfortable maiden victory in the Production category. Early leader Anders Grondal retired with engine failure on Saturday and nearest rival Patrik Flodin was excluded for a technical infringement at the beginning of the second day.