PHOTO: Volkswagen’s Jari-Matti Latvala leaps to victory in Rally Sweden.
(9/2/2014) JARI-Matti Latvala has won Rally Sweden for the third time to move to the head of the FIA World Rally Championship standings.
The Finn, who claimed his maiden Swedish victory in 2008, beat Volkswagen teammate Andreas Mikkelsen by 53.6sec after a tight battle through snowy forests in Sweden and Norway. The rally finished early Sunday, Australian time.
Mikkelsen, who twice led the rally, secured his first WRC podium.
Third went to Mads Ostberg, who finished just 5.9sec behind his fellow Norwegian to secure his fourth consecutive podium in the championship’s only true winter round.
The WRC now heads to Rally Guanajuato Mexico for round three on 6-9 March, where interest will centre on the debut of Australia’s leading international rally driver Chris Atkinson for the Hyundai Shell World Rally Team.
Atkinson, who is also confirmed for Rally Australia on the New South Wales Coffs Coast on 11-14 September, will take charge of the Hyundai i20 WRC on its first gravel event in Mexico.
Latvala celebrated his Swedish victory with a hug from his father Jari senior, also a rally driver.
“It’s my third win here and I’ve never won the same rally three times,” he said.
“It feels amazing to win here, it’s something very, very special.
“It’s a long time since my win in Greece last year. That was more about tactics and saving the car, but this is a high-speed event so it gives me confidence that I can also win high-speed rallies. I really needed a good result here.”
World champion Sebastien Ogier, Mikkelsen and Latvala dominated the opening leg in their Polo R cars. When Ogier dropped more than four minutes and the lead on Friday morning after crashing into a snowbank, Mikkelsen moved to the front.
Two stages later Mikkelsen did the same and Latvala was ahead. Mikkelsen remained in close contact and they started Saturday’s longest leg separated by 3.6sec. But when Mikkelsen plunged into the snow for a second time, Latvala could relax.
“This is absolutely fantastic,” Mikkelsen said.
“I really hoped for this at my home event with all my friends and family here and second is more than I could ever have dreamed of.
“This morning we were maybe fighting for a win, but I made a small mistake and after that it was about keeping Ostberg behind us.”
Ostberg struggled for confidence initially in his first loose-surface rally in a Citroen DS3, but came to terms with the car and saw off the Ford Fiesta RS cars of Mikko Hirvonen and Ott Tanak.
Hirvonen finished 1min 27.4sec behind, with Tanak delivering possibly the drive of the rally to take fifth after more than a year away from the championship. He was 33.6sec behind Hirvonen.
Ogier recovered from 20th to finish sixth, overhauling Henning Solberg in the penultimate stage. Pontus Tidemand, Craig Breen and Kris Meeke completed the top 10, Meeke bouncing back after losing seven minutes and sixth place when he slid into the snow.
Elfyn Evans was on course for ninth until crashing his Fiesta RS in the final stage, while Martin Prokop retired in the morning when he went off and became stuck in the snow.
Hyundai’s Juho Hanninen finished 19th and Thierry Neuville 28th after respectively damaging a wheel and breaking the front right suspension on their i20 cars on Saturday.
Robert Kubica was 24th after three lengthy spells in the snow.
RESULTS, Rally Sweden (WRC Rd 2 of 13)
1 J-M Latvala/M Anttila (Volkswagen) Total time 3 hrs 31.1 sec.
2 A Mikkelsen/M Markkula (Volkswagen) + 53.6 sec. behind winner
3 M Ostberg/J Andersson (Citroen) + 59.5
4 M Hirvonen/J Hanninen (Ford) + 2:26.9
5 O Tanak/R Molder (Ford) +3:00.5
6 S Ogier/J Ingrassia (Volkswagen) + 4:29.9
7 H Solberg/I Minor (Ford) +4:47.5
8 P Tideman/O Floene (Ford) + 5:38.2
9 C Breen/S Martin (Ford) +8:55.4
10 K Meeke/P Nagle (Citroen) + 11:18.0
Driver standings (after Rd 2)
1 J-M Latvala 40
2 S Ogier 35
3 M Ostberg 30
4 A Mikkelsen 24
5 B Bouffier 18
Manufacturers standings (after Rd 2)
1 Volkswagen Motorsport 72
2 Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT 56
3 Volkswagen Motorsport II 26
4 M-Sport WRT 22
5 Hyundai Shell WRT 8