Sébastien Ogier, driving the new Volkswagen Polo R WRC, has taken the early lead of Rally Sweden, the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Frenchman holds a 31.4 second advantage over Citroën’s reigning World Champion and arch rival Sébastien Loeb, who has been battling for position with Jari-Matti Latvala in the second Polo R WRC.
Rally Sweden got underway last night with the opening super special stage in Karlstad, where crews raced head to head around the 1.9 kilometre crowd-pleasing stage. Loeb claimed honours here but out in the forests it has been Ogier’s day. He won the first two stages this morning, building a small advantage and only ceding the next stage victory to Mads Østberg by 3.1 seconds. By the lunchtime service, Ogier’s lead was just 10.1 seconds over Loeb, but this afternoon a hat-trick of stage wins saw him pull out a comfortable advantage before the crews headed back to Karlstad for the final run around the super special stage. Loeb and Latvala have been dicing for position all day, the rivals swapping position no fewer than four times. However, an intercom problem saw Latvala lose some time in the final forest stage and drop back behind Loeb.
Østberg has recovered from early morning dramas and holds fourth. The Norwegian had overheating problems in the first stage and picked up road penalties trying to fix a leaking water pipe before the following test. Young Russian, Evgeny Novikov is fifth after a largely trouble-free day and local driver Pontus Tidemand holds an impressive sixth in his debut Championship outing in a World Rally Car.
A number of crews have hit problems in today’s first full day of competition, Mikko Hirvonen being one of the leading victims. He went off the road in the first stage, gently rolled through the snow and lost 24 minutes trying to get the car back on the road. Matthew Wilson - standing in for Nasser Al-Attiyah - also went off the road and was joined by Khalid Al Qassimi who went off in the same place. Dani Sordo also lost time off the road this afternoon. All have however been able to complete the day.