WRC – Tanak leads in Sweden as top five covered by 7.1s

10.02.23

Different drivers won all three of Friday morning’s Rally Sweden stages, but it was Ott Tänak who emerged in front after a fast and furious opening loop.

Ironically, Tänak is yet to win a stage on this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship – or this season – but consistency paid dividends for the Estonian driver, who leapfrogged overnight leader Kalle Rovanperä after claiming a brace of top-three stage times aboard his M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid.

It’s the first time the British team has led a WRC event since the Friday of last year’s EKO Acropolis Rally Greece. However, with just 2.1s in hand over a charging Craig Breen, Tänak has no room to relax.

“We probably should be faster,” said the leader, suggesting there is room for improvement in the afternoon. “It should be a lot better, so let's see what the second loop will bring. At the moment [the conditions] not so easy, that's for sure.”

Tänak’s ascent to the top of the leaderboard was helped by the fact that rival Rovanperä opened the road, sweeping a clean line in the loose snow.

Breen, making his return to the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team, started even further back in the road order and used the situation to his advantage. A blistering run through Brattby’s opener elevated the Irishman from seventh to second overall, although he was unable to pull any more time from Tänak on stages three and four.

Rounding off the provisional podium, and only 2.0s further back, is Breen’s i20 N team-mate Esapekka Lappi. The Finn felt he had more to give on the high-speed stages but also remained wary of making any silly mistakes.

Rovanperä ended the morning just 4.7s adrift of the lead with his Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Takamoto Katsuta 2.4s behind in fifth overall. The latter had arguably one of the best mornings of his WRC career and even posted the fastest time on the Botsmark stage.

More than 15 seconds off the pace is Elfyn Evans, also driving a Toyota. The Welshman said he struggled to find the confidence and the balance required to fight at the front, while seventh-placed Thierry Neuville is battling both the flu and understeer in his Hyundai i20 Rally1 Hybrid.

Pierre-Louis Loubet, starting his second Rally Sweden, is eighth overall in front of WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg, who headed Italian privateer Lorenzo Bertelli.

Toksport-run Solberg (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) heads Teemu Suninen (Hyundai i20 N Rally2) in WRC2. After three stages, William Creighton was the driver to beat in WRC3/Junior WRC at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta Rally3.

The action resumes with the rerun of the 10.76-kilometre Brattby stage from 14h53 CET.