THIERRY Neuville headed a clean sweep of the top three places for Hyundai at Rally Sweden following Friday’s first full day.

PHOTO: Neuville flies through the snowy stages on Friday’s leg of Rally Sweden (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull pic)

The Belgian fended off Andreas Mikkelsen by 4.9sec after a tough day on snow and ice-covered roads in the forests of Sweden and Norway. Hayden Paddon surged up the order late on to claim third, 12.1sec off the lead.

Lying sixth after Thursday’s curtain-raising speed test, Neuville moved his i20 to the front on Friday morning’s second stage and held off a chasing pack which had the advantage of better conditions.

The early starters lost time ploughing a clean route though fresh morning snow. They endured worse when the tests were repeated in the afternoon, battling ruts and narrow tramlines created by later competitors in the original pass.

Conditions improved with every car but a determined Neuville held on, even though he never had the luxury of a lead greater than 4.8sec.

“Fifth on the road was OK and I could benefit from the lines of the guys in front and push hard to match those behind. When I saw the afternoon conditions I knew we’d struggle, but sometimes we were able to go faster than those starting after us to stay ahead,” he said.

Norwegian Mikkelsen, who started further down the order, had a troublefree day but admitted: “It looks like we have a job on to fight for the win.”

Paddon won two afternoon stages to leap from eighth at the midpoint, claiming his second success in the final Torsby stage despite fearing he had overworked his studded tyres.

The Kiwi’s charge deprived Craig Breen of a top-three place, but the Irishman was delighted with his form. He also won two afternoon stages and was 0.5sec further back, with Mads Østberg completing a thrilling fight for third 0.6sec behind.

Teemu Suninen was sixth, despite the light pod of his Ford Fiesta flying off in the final test with fellow Finn Esapekka Lappi seventh. Lappi was second before burying his Toyota Yaris in the snow ,which blocked the radiator grille and sapped engine power.

Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Ott Tänak suffered badly from their start position and were eighth and ninth, with Kris Meeke completing the top 10.

A despondent Sebastien Ogier fared worst of all. The championship leader opened the road and conceded almost three minutes en route to 12th.

Saturday’s route journeys east of the rally’s Torsby hub and features two identical loops of three stages, which include the famous Colin’s Crest jump. It ends with a second pass through last night’s Karlstad trotting track test and a sprint on the edge of Torsby. The eight stages cover 120.31km.

Outright standings after day two (Friday):

1 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 1h16m13.1s
2 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +4.9s
3 Hayden Paddon/Sebastian Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +12.1s
4 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +12.6s
5 Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroen C3 WRC) +13.2s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +29.6s
7 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +38.5s
8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m06.2s
9 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m29.0s
10 Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Citroen C3 WRC) +1m43.6s

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.