PHOTO: Jari-Matti Latvala ploughs through the Swedish snow in his Toyota Yaris WRC (Toyota pic)
A DRAMATIC final day is in store for Rally Sweden on Sunday, with Jari-Matti Latvala in the box seat to win for the new Toyota team and Ford driver Ott Tänak just 3.9 seconds off his maiden victory in the FIA World Rally Championship.
Latvala was the surprise leader after an action-packed day on the snow, inheriting the place at the last moment when Thierry Neuville threw away a 43 sec. advantage with a crash on the nighttime super special stage at Karlstad trotting track.
But the Finn has Tänak breathing down his exhaust following an impressive drive in the Fiesta that scored three morning stage victories and took 17.8 seconds out of his rival. Latvala, meanwhile, struggled for grip on the same stages and regretted his decision to carry two spare wheels.
Freed from Saturday of the regulation to run first on the road, world champion Sébastien Ogier climbed from fifth place to take third on the provisional podium, 12.8 sec. behind his M-Sport teammate Tänak.
Neuville’s crash ripped the front wheel from his Hyundai i20 Coupe and he will start the final day from 13th position and 10 minutes behind his former pursuer Latvala. It is the second rally in a row in which the Belgian has crashed out of a secure lead.
“There are really no words that convey how I feel right now. It was a very sudden end to what had been a good rally for us. We had spent all Saturday with a deliberate strategy to take things steady and to stay in control of the rally. We didn’t want a repeat of Monte, but that’s exactly what we got,” Neuville said.
Toyota principal Tommi Mäkinen said Latvala was in for a big fight to secure a potential win for the manufacturer in just its second event after a 17-year layoff.
“Of course rallying is full of drama and, although we have taken a surprise lead, we feel very sorry for our competitor who had a problem on the last stage,” Mäkinen said.
“Jari-Matti has been in a big fight all day and this will become even more intense tomorrow. In these situations it’s quite hard to know what to do. I know that Jari-Matti will want to bring the car home so that will maybe affect his thinking.”
Hyundai’s Dani Sordo got home fourth, the Spaniard 25.0sec clear of Citroën Craig Breen. After an error-strewn day yesterday, Breen was mistake-free as his confidence grew on his debut in the new C3.
Elfyn Evans was sixth ahead of Hayden Paddon who drove all morning with no power steering in his i20 Coupe. He lost almost four minutes, comparing driving the car to “wrestling a 400 pound lion”.
The final day of the rally contains just three stages – one 21.19 km test run twice, followed by the 16.43 km Torsby power stage. Cars leave parc ferme at 06:35 and there is no service halt between stages, meaning crews will have to be especially careful to avoid any mistakes.
Overall standings after Saturday:
1 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miika Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2h04m59.3s
2 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3.8s
3 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +16.6s
4 Dani Sordo/Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m39.5s
5 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +2m04.5s
6 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3m44.7s
7 Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +5m00.2s
8 Stephane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau (Citroen DS3 WRC) +5m37.0s
9 Pontus Tidemand/Jonas Andersson (Skoda Fabia R5) +6m36.7s
10 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta R5) +7m52.9s