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WRC - Rovanperä remains on top in Sweden after eventful day


2022 Rally Sweden - Saturday afternoon

2022 WRC - Rally Sweden - K. Rovanperä/J. Halttunen (Nikos Katikis / DPPI Media)

Five different drivers led this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Friday’s opening leg, but the Finn took control for a second time on Saturday morning and fended off an attack from Toyota GR Yaris team-mate Elfyn Evans.

Rovanperä headed Evans by just 1.2sec with two speed tests remaining. As night fell, he turned up the pace further to win both stages and extend his advantage to 8.3sec over the Welshman with Sunday’s short final leg remaining.

Rovanperä relegated overnight leader Thierry Neuville in the opening special stage and was almost five seconds to the good by the day’s midpoint. Evans retaliated on the second pass of the roads only for his colleague to deliver a potentially crucial blow in the dark.

“I knew that when we lost a bit in the afternoon’s first stage we needed to fight back,” Rovanperä explained. “It should always be 100 per cent commitment but on the last stage I think it was 105 or 110 per cent! They were really difficult conditions and I’m happy to be through without mistakes. Tomorrow will still be a big fight.”

Evans won two of the six stages compared to Rovanperä’s treble but almost threw away his chances on the last corner of the closing test. He ploughed through a snowbank at exactly the point where the finish timing beam was located and completed the final metres to the stop line on a road parallel to the stage.

Neuville remained on the heels of the two Toyota drivers until an overshoot in the morning’s final test cost 10sec and demoted him to fourth. A spirited recovery promoted him back to third, but he ended 21.7sec off the lead in his Hyundai i20 N.

The Belgian had 4.2sec in hand over the third GR Yaris of Esapekka Lappi. The Finn fell away from the lead battle during the day and closed almost 1min 20sec clear of the similar car of Takamoto Katsuta.

The Japanese driver benefited from a throttle problem for Oliver Solberg who dropped 90sec after limping through the final stage in his i20 N. Solberg also collected a 2min 40sec penalty for arriving late at the test after working to make repairs on the preceding liaison section.

Gus Greensmith was sixth in a Ford Puma. He gained two places in the final stage due to Solberg’s problem and an engine issue for team-mate Adrien Fourmaux, which cost the Frenchman almost five minutes and dropped him off the leaderboard.

Solberg was 2min 31sec adrift in seventh with FIA WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen (Toksport Škoda Fabia Evo), Ole Christian Veiby (Volkswagen Polo GTI) and Nikolay Gryazin, in another Toksport Škoda, completing the top 10.

Mikkelsen moved into the lead late on Friday courtesy of a Veiby stall, but his fellow Norwegian jumped back in front at the first pass of Långed.

The 2021 WRC2 champion responded on the very next stage to reclaim the top spot and managed to maintain a slender advantage in tricky conditions.

He arrived back to Umeå 10.9sec clear of his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 rival and in eighth overall and remains on target for his second WRC2 win in as many rallies.

In the FIA Junior Championship, Jon Armstrong piled the pressure on Lauri Joona to swoop into the top spot late on Saturday.

The Ulsterman started the day 7.7sec down on his M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally3 rival, but moved in front after going 8.0sec quicker on the Brattby opener.

Joona reclaimed the position after snatching back 5.8sec on the following two speed tests before Armstrong began reeling him in again in the afternoon.

It all came down to the final stage, and Armstrong emerged on top after setting the fastest time. After 208km of flat-out action just 3.5sec split the pair. Runner-up of the Juniors, Joona remains on target for his maiden FIA WRC3 win.

Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy youngster William Creighton completes the provisional Junior WRC podium 1min 17.3sec adrift of the leaders, whilst East African debutant Mcrae Kimathi ended fourth.

Sami Pajari and Robert Virves restarted after their Friday retirements and held fifth and sixth respectively. Although almost 50min back from the lead, Pajari won five of the six special stages.

Two stages north-west of Umeå are driven twice in Sunday’s finale, totalling 56.84km. The closing test forms the bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage.

The provisional result can be consulted here.