PHOTO: Sebastien Ogier (right) and co-drver Julien Ingrassia celebrate another win in Rally Sweden (Volkswagen pic)
SÉBASTIEN Ogier led from start to finish to win his third Rally Sweden on Sunday and preserve his maximum-points start to the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship.
The Volkswagen Polo R driver was almost faultless in the Karlstad-based snow and ice rally to add to his 2013 and 2015 triumphs.
Surviving a brush with a tree on Friday, the Frenchman finished 29.3sec ahead of New Zealander Hayden Paddon, who scored a second consecutive podium for Hyundai’s new i20 car.
PHOTO: Kiwi Hayden Paddon became the first non-European driver to finish on the Sweden podium (Hyundai pic)
Mads Ostberg of Norway enjoyed the familiar winter conditions to finish third, a further 25.8sec behind, in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS.
Ogier also claimed full bonus points for winning the final Power Stage and, after doing the same in Rallye Monte-Carlo last month, has made a maximum-points start to his quest for a fourth straight driver’s championship.
He won his third title at Coates Hire Rally Australia last September and will return to the New South Wales Coffs Coast for the season’s 14th and closing round on 17-20 November.
A big thaw before the start of Rally Sweden threatened the season’s only pure winter rally as frozen gravel roads turned to mud. By the time the cold weather returned, nine of the 21 speed tests in Sweden and Norway had been axed, but up to 10cm of snow and temperatures as low as -10˚C ensured the event went ahead to the delight of thousands of fans in the forests.
PHOTO: Braving sub-zero temperatures, thousands of fans get into the spirit at Rally Sweden (Volkswagen pic)
Ogier’s dominance was challenged during Saturday’s second leg when his running position meant he had to sweep fresh snow from the roads, creating a cleaner line for rivals behind. His half-minute lead was slashed to less than 10sec by Paddon before he reasserted his authority.
“Two wins from the first two rallies – it can’t get any better. Yesterday was a little bit too crazy and I took risks like I had never done in my life,” said Ogier, who had a massive sixth-gear slide.
“Conditions were terrible at the beginning of the week but the organisers did an impressive job so that we had a good rally.”
New Zealand’s Paddon matched his career-best result on his debut in Hyundai’s new i20 and became the first non-European driver to finish on the Sweden podium.
He survived a late scare after hitting a wooden post metres from the finish of the last stage.
The impact holed the engine radiator and Paddon and co-driver John Kennard had to stem a fluid leak before driving cautiously on the 85km liaison section to the finish ceremony.
Østberg completed the podium 15.2sec ahead of countryman Andreas Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen ran as high as second but a time-consuming spin on Saturday ended his podium hopes.
Ott Tänak and Dani Sordo completed the top six in a Fiesta RS and Hyundai i20 respectively, a puncture ending the latter’s top-three challenge.
WRC front-runners Jari-Matti Latvala (driveshaft), Thierry Neuville (transmission) and Kris Meeke (suspension) all showed impressive speed but finished down the order after opening-day problems.
Elfyn Evans claimed his second straight WRC2 victory, defeating a apck of eager Nordic drivers on their home ground.
In only his third snow rally, the Welshman was headed only briefly in Friday’s opening leg before taking a lead he retained through to the Karlstad finish after 12 speed tests and 226.48km.
After Sweden, Round 3 will take crews to the opposite extreme of road and weather conditions – and culture – at the high-altitude Rally Guanajuato Mexico, near Leon, on 3-6 March. Mexico will be the first proper gravel event of the season, after the winter conditions of Monte-Carlo and Sweden.
RESULTS, Rally Sweden (WRC round 2):
1. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 1:59:47.4
2. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +29.8
3. M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +55.6
4. A. Mikkelsen / A. Jaeger (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:10.8
5. O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +1:50.7
6. D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +2:24.0
7. H. Solberg / I. Minor (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:40.0
8. C. Breen / S. Martin (Citroën DS3 WRC) +2:44.6
9. E. Evans / C. Parry (Ford Fiesta R5) +5:17.0
10. T. Suninen / M. Markkula (Škoda Fabia R5) +5:31.6
WRC Drivers’ Standings (after Rd 2):
1. S. Ogier 56 points
2. A. Mikkelsen 33
3. Mads Ostberg 27
4=. D. Sordo, H. Paddon 18
5. T. Neuville 17
6. O. Tanak 16
7. S. Lefebvre 10
8. H. Solberg 6
9. E. Evans 4
WRC Manufacturers’ Standings (after Rd 2):
1. Volkswagen Motorsport 54 points
2. Hyundai Motorsport 49
3. Volkswagen Motorsport II 30
4. M-Sport World Rally Team 27
5. DMACK World Rally Team 18