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TOYOTA’s new world rally team is the early leader of Rally Sweden after Jari-Matti Latvala won the opening Super Special Stage in a head-to-head race with Sébastien Ogier on Thursday night.

The Karlstad trotting track stage was just 1.9 km long, but Latvala in the Yaris WRC beat Ogier in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta by 0.9 sec., delivering Toyota a debut stage win in just its second event after a 17-year absence from the sport.

After finishing a surprise second to Ogier on Rallye Monte-Carlo three weeks ago, last night’s result though hardly definitive was a boost for the Toyota Gazoo team run by world champion Tommi Mäkinen.

Asked if everything was great, Latvala answered: “Everything is more than great. Now I just need to hold the horses.

”We’ve got a big motivation after the result in Monte Carlo, which was not what we were expecting. People are asking if we can do even better now, but the season has only just started and we need to be patient. It’s one of the fastest rallies, so you can really see where you are with the car and the engine in particular.”

Latvala was 0.6 sec. clear of Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville in the overall stage times.

The Belgian edged out Ott Tänak by 0.2sec in their heat, but Neuville wasn’t satisfied with his evening’s work.

“I used my shakedown tyres, which are not so nice but good enough to do the stage,” he said.

“It wasn’t a perfect stage, but good enough. I wasn’t so happy with the balance. It’s quite tricky out there, I planned to do better than that.”

Sandwiched between Neuville and Tänak’s Fiesta in the standings was Dani Sordo, while Ogier was sixth. Rounding off the top six was Mads Østberg, who was also quickest in the morning’s shakedown aboard his new privateer, 2017-spec Fiesta.

Nobody encountered major problems, although Hayden Paddon brushed a tyre barrier with his Hyundai i20 Coupe en route to 11th fastest.

Most of Friday’s action is in Norway. Two identical loops of three stages include the cross-border Röjden which starts and finishes in Sweden, with the middle section in its neighbouring country. Only the final Torsby test runs entirely in Sweden. The seven stages cover 145.65km.

 Overall standings after Thursday:

1 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miika Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1m34.1s
2 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +0.6s
3 Dani Sordo/Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +0.7s
4 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +0.8s
5 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +0.9s
6 Mads Ostberg/Ola Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1.2s
7 Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Citroen DS3 WRC) +2.0s
8 Juho Hänninen/Kaj Lindström (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2.1s
9 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2.1s
10 Ole Christian Veiby/Stig Rune Skjaermoen (Skoda Fabia R5) +2.4s

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.