Flying Finns were in top form in the first day of Rally Sweden, as Jari-Matti Latvala led his countryman Mikko Hirvonen. Third place was Norwegian Petter Solberg, while reigning world champion Sebastien Loeb lost two minutes in a snow bank on SS7.
Rally Sweden is the second race in the FIA World Rally Championship and of nine stages, six were run in Norway. But the Finns led the pack. Jari-Matti Latvala, Ford’s first driver pressed home his advantage iver Mikko Hirvonen on the day’s final forest stretch, SS9 Torsby, and took a lead of 16.8 seconds into Saturday’s stage.
"It’s been a good fight today, especially between me and Mikko, but Petter is not far off in time so it will not be easy tomorrow," said Latvala, before he headed to Karlstad and the evening’s final super special section.
Hirvonen, who has won Rally Sweden in a Ford the past two years, was pleased with his first day on snow and ice behind the steering wheel of a Citroen DS3 WRC. "Too bad that I lost so much time on the SS8. I had poor traction and slid all over the road," said Hirvonnen.
Third place Petter Solberg had saved a set of new tires for SS9, and won it, so he's close behind Hirvonen on Saturday. Solberg was happy even if he did not win the stage that went just past his front yard in Mitandersfors on the Swedish side of the border. "I was a little nervous about making a mistake, so I backed off a little before we came to the farm. After we passed it, and all spectators, I focused fully," he said.
Last year’s sensation Mads Østberg won the “Solberg stage”, then fell back slightly to be fourth on Saturday. "We had problems with traction," said Östbergs Swedish co-driver Jonas Andersson.
Russian Evgeny Novikov led the way on the first leg and is in firth place for the restart on Saturday morning. Next to him were Henning Solberg, Sebastien Loeb and the best-placed Swedish, Patrik Sandell, eighth place in a WRC Mini.
"Apart from the last two sections, this was my coolest rally day, he said. "It has been fantastic to drive in Rally Sweden," said Sandell, who lost time at the end of the stage.––Paul Duchene
1) Jari-Matti Latvala, Finland, Ford Fiesta RS WRC, 1.23.50,8
2) Mikko Hirvonen, Finland, Citroen DS3 WRC, + 16.8 sec
3) Petter Solberg, Norway, Ford Fiesta RS WRC, + 18.6
4) Mads Østberg, Norway, Ford Fiesta RS WRC, + 32.3
5) Evgeny Novikov, Russia, Ford Fiesta RSWRC, + 1.21,2
6) Henning Solberg, Norway, Ford Fiesta RS WRC, + 1.48,5
7) Sebastien Loeb, France, Citroen DS3 WRC, + 2.08,9
8) Patrik Sandell, Sweden, Mini John Cooper Works WRC, + 2.18,8
9) Martin Prokop, Czech Republic, Ford Fiesta RS WRC, + 2.26,9
10) Eyvind Brynildsen, Norway, Ford Fiesta RS WRC, + 2.59,8
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