Thierry Neuville claimed the win in the second round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Sweden, in comfortable fashion on Sunday.
Leading by 22.7 seconds going into the three remaining stages, the Belgian made sure of the win with a string of solid times and went on to win ahead of Craig Breen, who finished a fine second.
A delighted Neuville said on his win: It’s an incredible weekend. We didn’t expect to be so fast over here year, but the team and the car gave us the chance to fight for victory. We deserved it last year, even more this year.”
“There are more than 200 people in the team, they are committed and gave us everything. I’m really happy with the weekend and looking forward to the upcoming events.”
After moving up the leaderboard ahead of the other two Hyundai’s of Andreas Mikkelsen and Hayden Paddon early on Saturday morning, the Irishman held second for the remainder of the event to take his career best result in the WRC.
Despite his best efforts to catch Breen ahead, Mikkelsen had to settle for third with the Norwegian finishing ahead of a charging Esapekka Lappi in the leading Toyota – the Fin taking the last two stage victories as he pipped Paddon for fourth overall with the ‘Power Stage’ victory giving Lappi five extra championship points in the process.
The second Citroen of Mads Østberg rounded out the top six on his so far only planned event for the team. The Swede suffered from a lack of confidence in the C3 WRC and couldn’t find a setup that suited him.
Seventh went to Jari-Matti Latvala who like Ostberg struggled with the setup of his car, while Teemu Suninen finished a solid eighth for M-Sport in his first event aboard a top-specification Fiesta WRC.
Ott Tänak could only salvage a ninth-place finish after his collision with Kris Meeke on Saturday cost him over a minute and a half, while defending champion Sébastien Ogier rounded out the top 10 – with Ogier finishing second on the Power Stage to claim vital championship points.
But the Monte Carlo winner’s performance on the stage was brought into question after he began the stage late and not when he should have in terms of running order.
It hasn’t been confirmed whether it was a mechanical issue with his Fiesta that caused him to start later than expected or if it was down to tactics of trying to get a better road position. He did receive a time penalty for the incident.
WRC2 saw a fantastic battle across the weekend between defending champion Pontus Tidemand and Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta with the latter winning by just 4.5 seconds. Norwegian Ole Christian Veiby finished third.
JWRC ended in a two-way fight for the win as Denis Rådström beat Emil Bergkvist to the victory. German Julius Tannert rounded out the podium. World Rallycross Champion Johan Kristoffersson finished seventeenth overall in a R5-specifciation Skoda.
Round three of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship is Rally Mexico, which takes place between March 8-11.