Sebastien Ogier has claimed victory on the shortest ever World Rally Championship event, cementing his win with a top place finish on 15.87km Power Stage on Rally Sweden. At a planned 331.21km, Sweden was already set to be the 15th shortest event in the history of the WRC but with cancellations due to weather conditions only 226.48km of stages were actually contested. That makes Sweden 55.67km shorter than the previous record holder, the 2008 Rally Great Britian.
Ogier’s victory was almost certain after his only real rival on the event, Hyundai Motorsport N‘s Hayden Paddon, effectively conceded the chase on SS16. The 12.7 second deficit that Paddon took though the final test only cemented his second place finish, 29.8 seconds behind the champion. Still this is a massive achievement for the New Zealander and his co-driver John Kennard, who salvaged a podium for Hyundai when both of the Hyundai Motorsport entered drivers hit problems early in the rally and were forced to fight back throughout the event. This was Paddon’s first event in the new for 2016 Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC.
The #4 machine finished sixth on the Power Stage after hitting a post and damaging a radiator. Paddon said, “A podium is a fantastic result for me and everyone in the team. We were hoping to have had a less stressful finish to the rally but unfortunately we had some water leaking from the radiator after hitting a wooden post in the stage, which required some quick repairs. Thankfully, we were able to find a temporary fix and get back to service with our second place intact! Late drama aside, we have had a good weekend and I have felt very comfortable in the New Generation i20 WRC.”
Behind the Hyundai, both in the overall standings and on the final stage came Mads Ostberg for M-Sport World Rally Team making Rally Sweden the first event with three different brands on the podium since Wales Rally GB in 2014.
A promising start from Volkswagen Motorsport II entered Andreas Mikkelsen dropped away with small errors compounding to a 1:10.8 deficit to Ogier at the end of the rally. Mikkelsen admits to over-driving his Volkswagen Polo R WRC in a bid to keep up with the front runners which ultimately cost him time and a place on the overall podium. Still, a strong run on the Power Stage at Värmullsåsen netted two points to add to the 12 he claimed for a fourth place finish.
“Naturally,” he said with honesty, “fourth place is not what we were aiming for at the Rally Sweden. We definitely wanted to be fighting for the win. However, to achieve this, we had to drive on full attack right from the start – and ultimately made too many mistakes. Naturally, we will learn from this for the future. I gave it my all once again on the power stage today and picked up two bonus points. On balance we made the best of the situation.”
DMACK World Rally Team‘s Ott Tanak took fifth place in the M-Sport run Fiesta RS WRC with development tyres but only eighth on the final stage of the rally. The power stage didn’t affect his overall position though, finishing 39.9 seconds behind Mikkelsen and a similar margin ahead of Dani Sordo, the best of the Hyundai Motorsport entered i20s. Sweden is the second event in a row that Hyundai have managed to get two cars into the top six, though this is the first double top six for the new car as Paddon was driving the older spec machine at Rallye Monte Carlo.
Both Sordo and his team mate Thierry Neuville were on recovery drives through the event but had trouble free power stages. Sordo was slow through the final test though, managing only fifteenth place behind the top three WRC2 cars. Still, the Spaniard had a good rally, if not for a puncture on the first stage of day two he would have been tantailisingly close to the battle for third and fourth place. Neuville wasn’t so fortunate after a differential problem on day one which left him well down the order. He fought back to ninth in WRC and fourteenth overall by the end of the shortened itinerary.
Privateer racer and local hero Henning Solberg had a reasonable run on the only WRC event to touch his native Norway. Solberg hadn’t tested or rallied for a year when he stated Rally Sweden and was delighted to have secured seventh place by finishing ninth on the power stage, pulling the gap to Citroen’s Craig Breen to 4.6 seconds. The Norweigien was unable to confirm when we would see him and co-driver Ilka Minor-Petrasko again saying only that he was talking to Malcolm Wilson at M-Sport about a car.
Breen did all he could to catch Solberg on the final stage, losing only a second to the Fiesta, but the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team driver wasn’t to be successful. Eighth on the event overall though does net him points on his debut in the WRC while his team mates finished tenth and eleventh after problems. It was Khalid Al-Qassimi who netted the final point for Citroen.
In WRC2 there was a stage top three lockout for a manufacturer as Skoda’s Fabia R5 nabbed the top three spots. Esapekka Lappi topped the stage, grabbing the three power stage points with WRC2 debutante Oli Christian Veiby in second and Pontus Tidemand in third. Fourth on the stage after a reserved drive through the stage came the class winner, M-Sport’s Elfyn Evans. The Welshman has truly stated his intentions in the first two rounds of the championship, showing the maturity of a champion and the self control to maintain a lead rather then go flat out and risk it all. Tidemand and Lappi completed the class podium, though Tidemand had little chance of closing the 14.7 second gap to the leader.
The closer battle was for the final podium spot where the Ford Fiesta R5 of Anders Grondal finished an impressive 2.1 seconds behind Lappi. The stories of WRC2 in Sweden though will definitely be Veiby’s impressive graduation and Evyind Brynildsen‘s record breaking leap from Colins Crest.
The WRC3 battle didn’t arrive in Sweden, Michel Fabre was the only class entry. A steady drive to 35th overall gave him experience of the stages in Sweden though, preparing him for his future career, a full 28 points won’t hurt his championship hopes any either.
From the cold and brutally shortened action of Rally Sweden the WRC now looks to warmer climes and looser surfaces for the next round. 4th March sees the start of Rally Guanajuato Mexico which, in stark contrast to the rally just gone, features the longest WRC stage in 30 years. The 20th special stage of the third round of the championship fall just short of the record set by Tour of Corsica in 1986 at 51.57 miles, (82.993km) as regulations restrict the length of stages to not more than 80km.