(6/2/2014) ANDREAS Mikkelsen has taken an early lead for Volkswagen in Rally Sweden, winning the opening Super Special Stage run under lights in Karlstad.
The young Norwegian was fastest in his Polo R by 0.8sec from colleague Sebastien Ogier around the jumps and sweeping hairpins of the town’s trotting track on Wednesday night.
“I was a bit rusty with my driving for the first couple of corners because I haven’t tested in the snow since December. But I had a clean run and it’s a great way to start the rally,” Mikkelsen said.
A remarkable third-fastest was Estonia’s Ott Tanak, returning to the sport’s top level after a year away. He was 2.2sec behind Mikkelsen in his Ford Fiesta RS, with Jari-Matti Latvala’s Polo R and Mikko Hirvonen’s Fiesta RS completing the top five.
The rally restarts from Karlstad at 8.20am Thursday, local time. Ahead lie six stages in Sweden and Norway covering 60.12km.
The rally, round two of the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship, will cover a total of 24 Special Stages, including another nighttime Super Special Stage in Karlstad on Saturday before the finish on Sunday.
Famous for its deep snow, Sweden is the only event on which studded tyres are compulsory. With only one rubber compound and tread pattern allowed, the focus will be on management of the allocation of 24 tyres for the rally and four from Shakedown, which may be re-used.
However, above-average daytime temperatures have caused snow and ice to melt and the titanium studs may be damaged or ripped out if they contact the gravel base.
The conditions could be difficult for the WRC’s newest team, Shell Hyundai Motorsport. Having tested in snow in northern Finland in December, it now finds unexpectedly different challenges in Sweden.
This event is effectively a fresh start for the team after an unhappy debut in Rallye Monte-Carlo last month, when both its cars retired on the first leg.
Team boss Michel Nandan says the focus is to finish the event and gain information about the new i20 cars. Australian driver Chris Atkinson will join the team for Mexico next month (and Rally Australia in September), but Nandan says it won’t be until round four, Portugal, that the team will be able to make any reliable assessment of the car’s speed.
Earlier on Wednesday, Hyundai lead driver Thierry Neuville was fifth-fastest on the 3.99 kilometre Shakedown stage and teammate Juho Hanninen seventh.
Mads Ostberg edged out Jari-Matti Latvala to be fastest, although in the mild weather many drivers preferred to protect their spiked tyres and cruised through the stage.
World champion Sébastien Ogier was 12th fastest, while Ostberg’s Citroen teammate Kris Meeke had to return to the Citroen service area for repairs after he hit a snow bank and damaged the steering. Despite the setback, Meeke claimed third place.
Robert Kubica was ninth in the Shakedown.