SÉBASTIEN Ogier has just one stage to complete after a Sunday-morning sleep-in to wrap up Rally Sweden victory.
Poor road conditions forced organisers to scrap an eighth stage from the original 21-stage itinerary, which has been affected by unseasonably warm weather melting the snow.
This leaves only the 15.87km Power Stage to run just after midday and with a 17.1sec lead over Kiwi Hayden Paddon, triple world champion Ogier seems assured of a second straight win in the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship.
Paddon has an even bigger margin – 25.2sec – over nearest rival Mads Ostberg in a Ford Fiesta RS and is on course for his career-second runner-up spot and one more step up the podium for the New Generation Hyundai i20 car.
Up to 10cm of snow filled the forests overnight and the slippery surface on Saturday morning was bad news for road-opener Ogier. He ploughed a clean line which Paddon, starting six cars farther back, took advantage of to pile on the pressure.
Although Ogier won the opening test to widen the margin to more than half a minute, the snow was deeper in the following test and Paddon cut the deficit to 8.8sec.
Ogier regained vital seconds in the final three stages, despite a heart-stopping slide in the penultimate stage, while Paddon managed the wear on his studded Michelin tyres as gravel reappeared on the roads.
Ogier revealed he’s driven “completely flat out” all day to hold off the flying Kiwi and overcome his unfavourable road position.
“I took so many risks and couldn’t have gone any faster. We gave absolutely everything today, from the first metre to the last.
“We knew that we would lose a lot of time on some stages, as we had to open the route after the overnight snowfall, meaning we had to sweep the roads for those behind us.
“As we obviously wanted to take our lead into tomorrow, there was no time for tactics. Apart from one moment on the second pass of Vargåsen, we did not give a millimetre and had an almost perfect day.”
Mads Østberg lost third in the opening stage after flirting with a ditch, but quickly reasserted himself in the final podium place.
Andreas Mikkelsen briefly demoted his fellow Norwegian, but the Volkswagen Polo R pilot lost any realistic chance of a top-three finish when he entered a corner too fast courtesy of an over-optimistic pace note and spun. He was 25.1sec behind Østberg.
Although he was uncomfortable on frozen gravel sections, Estonia’s Ott Tänak was fifth in another Fiesta RS.
Ogier won two of Saturday’s five stages, the others falling to teammate Jari-Matti Latvala who nonetheless languishes in 26h place after a series of setbacks.
Elfyn Evans and M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta R5 continued to hold the lead in WRC2 and it was another Fiesta that claimed a new world-record jump distance of 45 metres over the famous Colin’s Crest.
Jumping his car farther than any of the top-level World Rally Car stars, Norway’s Eyvnd Brynildsen was a surprise winner of the Colin’s Crest Award, named after 1995 World Champion Colin McRae.
Brynildsen was in fifth gear and travelling at around 165kph when he took off.
“I decided before the stage that if everything went to plan then I would try to break the record. I just put my right foot on the pedal and held it down. No drama!” he said.
Overall Classification after Day Two
1. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 1:52:04.7
2. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +17.1
3. M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +42.3
4. A. Mikkelsen / A. Jaeger (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +1:07.4
5. O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +1:31.6
6. D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +1:56.3
7. H. Solberg / I. Minor (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:17.2
8. C. Breen / S. Martin (Citroën DS3 WRC) +2:20.8
9. E. Evans / C. Parry (Ford Fiesta R5) +4:44.7|
10. P. Tidemand / J. Andersson (Škoda Fabia R5) +5:02.6