Volkswagen Motorsport‘s three times world champion Sebastien Ogier continues to lead the shortened 2016 Rally Sweden by a reduced margin over second place at the end of the second day of action. Ogier entered the day with a 23.1 second advantage over New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon which dropped as low as 8 seconds through Saturday’s five stages. Only when Paddon over-exerted his tyres on SS14 did Ogier start to rebuild his cushion.
“We gave absolutely everything today,” Ogier said, “from the first metre to the last. We knew that we would lose a lot of time on some stages, as we had to open the route after the overnight snowfall, meaning we had to sweep the roads for those behind us. As we obviously wanted to take our lead into tomorrow, there was no time for tactics. Apart from one moment on the second pass of ‘Vargåsen’, we did not give a millimetre and had an almost perfect day.”
Paddon was aided in the morning by overnight snowfall which left the #1 car with the job of snow plow for the chasing pack. Opening the road slowed the champion down along with several other drivers who started ahead of the brand new i20.
The Hyundai Motorsport New Generation i20 WRC showed its strength in the rapidly changing conditions of the rally during the afternoon. Paddon may have let the gap to Ogier re-open but he continued to built a buffer against the pursuing Ford Fiesta RS WRC of Mads Ostberg. 42.3 seconds now cover the top three after the Super Special Stage which ended the days action, with Paddon holding a 25.2 second advantage over the chasing Norwegien.
Paddon commented, “We made the most of our starting position this morning, with those running ahead of us helping to clean the road a bit. We just focused on our own thing and were able to close the gap. There wasn’t as much of an advantage in the stages that followed but we were still able to keep hold of second – and that is very much our target for tomorrow. We can’t necessarily fight for the win based on outright pace but a podium here would be a great result – and we have one stage left to make that happen.”
Andreas Mikkelsen in the Volkswagen Motorsport II entered VW Polo R WRC initially fought his way onto the podium but left the road on SS14 losing over 20 seconds which dropped him down to fourth. Starting second on the road also added to the Finns problems has he forged a path in the wake of Ogier and further cleared the snow from the route. The Polo now sits almost equally split between Ostberg ahead and the DMACK World Rally Team Fiesta of Ott Tanak in fifth.
The snow began to fall again in the afternoon which leveled the playing field somewhat. It also caused more problems for several drivers across the three classes on the rally. Eleven cars have so far retired from the rally, nine of which dropped out on the second day as the roads changed considerably from the recce earlier in the week. Indeed Mikkelsen blamed his off on an ‘overly positive pace note‘ which was re-written based on experience from the recce which was no longer valid as the stage went live.
Three WRC spec machines dropped out of the rally on the second day, though none were in contention. Eric Camilli‘s M-Sport World Rally Team Fiesta was the highest profile retirement; the Frenchman rolled on the Fredriksburg stage. Lorenzo Bertelli also retired on the Fredriksburg test, though the only official reason given is ‘Personal’. The driver’s twitter account gives more information, saying that he withdrew from the event in protest at the lack of driver representation at decision making level in the sport.
Yazeed Al-Rajhi was the third WRC spec machine to retire after an accident in SS16 which reportedly ripped a wheel of his privateer Fiesta.
Sixth in WRC is held by Dani Sordo in the second Hyundai i20 with Norwegien privateer Henning Solberg only 12 seconds behind. Solberg has been on a charge since problems on the first day of the rally but Sordo has not been lying down despite a puncture on SS10. The pair are locked in a battle which could see them close on Tanak, though there is only one stage left to contest. Irish racer Craig Breen continues to head up the Citroen effort for Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team in eighth place overall.
Khalid Al-Qassimi rounds out the top ten in WRC behind Thierry Neuville‘s Hyundai. The Belgian driver picked up a 20 second penalty at the first stage of the day when he arrived late into the first time control. The pair are in 14th and 19th overall respectively.
The big story in WRC2 isn’t the fact the M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans continues to lead, now holding down ninth place overall after just ten completed stages. The R5 Fiesta holds an 17.9 second advantage over the first of a chasing pair of Skoda Fabia R5 entries, which shared two stage wins each on Saturday leaving Evans only SS10 to his credit. Nor is it the surprise 1.2 second win on the Vargasen stage for the Fabia of Esapekka Lappi or Pontus Tidemand‘s impressive run to second place.
The big story in WRC2 comes from a driver who sits fifth in the class at the end of the penultimate stage, running in identical M-Sport prepared machinery to the Welshman at the top of the table. Spectators and commentators alike were very impressed on SS16, the second pass through the Vargasen test when Theirry Neuville equaled his 2015 44 meter world record jump at the iconic Colin’s Crest.
That was until an Ford Fiesta R5 at the hands of Evind Brynildsen flew through the proceeding corners to hit the jump flat out in fifth gear. Launching from around 165kph, or 102 miles per hour, the Norwegien flew a world record 45 meters before touching down and heading off to a fourth place finish on the stage.
A delighted Brynildsen said, “It was a nice little bonus to get the longest jump on Colin’s Crest. I actually heard that Thierry Neuville [the previous record holder] didn’t believe that the Fiesta R5 could go that fast, but he can join me for a ride if he is unsure! It just goes to show that the engine on this new Evo is really strong!”
Michel Fabre continues to contest the rally as the only WRC3 entered competitor.
The difficult conditions which forced the organisers to shorten Rally Sweden appear to have abated somewhat but SS18, 19 and 20 have not been re-instated to the rally. This leaves just the Power Stage for the final day of the event. 15.87 km of action will decide the winners before attention turns to warmer climes and the Rally Guanajato Mexico.