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PHOTO: Kiwi Hayden Paddon is second in Sweden in a superb debut with the New Generation Hyundai i20 WRC (Hyundai pic)

(Head to WRC+ to see the latest onboard and video reports from Rally Sweden.)

SÉBASTIEN Ogier led Rally Sweden and Kiwi Hayden Paddon rocketed into second place after a dramatic opening leg on Friday, which ended the hopes of several fancied drivers.

Ogier himself survived two incidents to lead the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship by 26.9sec in a Volkswagen Polo R. Paddon enjoyed a superb debut in Hyundai’s i20 to hold off Mads Østberg’s Ford Fiesta RS.

Snow returned to some of the stages, restoring Rally Sweden’s traditional conditions but making them unpredictable for the early runners after recce had been completed on wet and muddy roads.

Ogier won all three morning stages near the border between Sweden and Norway to build a 24.2sec cushion. But heavy afternoon snow left him at a disadvantage as road opener, creating a clean line for the benefit of later starters.

An afternoon overshoot cost a few seconds, but the Frenchman was fortunate to escape a more serious incident in the morning when he hit a tree and bent a steering arm. Without a scheduled lunchtime service, he and co-driver Julien Ingrassia replaced the part at the roadside.

“There was a big, big water splash which I didn’t have in my pace notes,” Ogier said.

“The organisers warned us about a bump but I couldn’t turn after it and went into the trees. I got a bit lucky. I had to push hard in the snow because I knew I would lose time.”

Paddon acclimatised on his first rally in the 2016-specification i20 and won the final two stages to rocket up from sixth. He admitted conditions favoured him courtesy of a low start position and he could benefit again on Saturday when more snow is forecast.

Østberg made a cautious start but progressed from eighth and revelled in the wintry afternoon conditions after changing both his car set-up and driving style.

Estonia’s Ott Tänak was 1.1sec behind in fourth in another Fiesta RS, 3.4sec ahead of Dani Sordo. The Spaniard felt his i20 was moving around too much but he briefly held third before slipping behind Østberg and Tänak.

Andreas Mikkelsen completed the top six in another Polo R, concluding a quartet of drivers covered by less than nine seconds. The Norwegian was Ogier’s closest challenger in second until he hit a tree stump and spun, losing 20sec.

Henning Solberg overcame gearshift issues and a final stage scare when the engine stopped in his Fiesta RS to hold seventh. He was 1.9sec ahead of Craig Breen who set a top-three time in Citroën’s DS 3. Eric Camilli and Lorenzo Bertelli completed the leaderboard.

Briton Kris Meeke had just claimed second when he hit a stone buried in the road, the impact sending his DS 3 into retirement. Thierry Neuville limped through much of the day in two-wheel drive after breaking his i20’s rear differential and a broken front left driveshaft put Latvala in a similar predicament. His Polo R eventually stopped in the final stage.

In the WRC2 battle, M-Sport World Rally Team’s Elfyn Evans leads a 1-2-3 for the Ford Fiesta R5 Evo.

Topping three out of the six stages, the Welshman carried on where he left off after winning last month’s Rallye Monte-Carlo, an impressive feat against a strong Scandinavian entry. Fredrik Åhlin and Anders Grøndal were second and third.

Saturday’s second leg features five stages covering 92.25km. It includes two passes over the spectacular Colin’s Crest jump in Vargåsen and ends with a head-to-head Super Special Stage at Karlstad trotting track.

Overall Classification after Day One:

1. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 1:03:10.6
2. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +26.9
3. M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +33.7
4. O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +34.8
5. D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +38.2
6. A. Mikkelsen / A. Jaeger (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +42.0
7. H. Solberg / I. Minor (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +1:36.9
8. C. Breen / S. Martin (Citroën DS3 WRC) +1:38.8
9. E. Camilli / N. Klinger (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:43.5
10. L. Bertelli / S. Scattolin (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +3:08.6

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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