ROAD conditions on Rally Sweden appeared much improved after the first three stages of the shortened event on Friday morning.
Despite saying to a local newspaper earlier this week that the rally should have been cancelled because of a lack of snow, world champion Sebastien Ogier was in his customary position at the front of the field at Friday’s mid-point.
“The road is pretty hard, it was OK. With no test or shakedown in these conditions it was good to try hard,” Ogier reported after leading teammate Andreas Mikkelsen and Citroen’s Kris Meeke through the first stage, Torsby.
The following two stages were run either partly or completely in Norway, where there has been a blanket of snow for the past few days. The surface was icy enough for the spiked tyres to generate perfect grip for the WRC cars. Torsby, in Sweden, was held on thawed-out gravel tracks.
“The conditions here are virtually perfect,” said Ogier, giving his first impression of the morning’s route. “You could push hard. The organisers have done a good job here.”
However, his morning was not without drama due to the unseasonably warm conditions.
The Frenchman finished stage three, Svullrya, with most of the front wing missing from his Volkswagen Polo R.
“There was a big, big water splash which I didn’t have in my pace notes,” he said. “The organisers warned us about a bump but I couldn’t turn after it and went into the trees.”
Ogier stopped for several minutes to replace a steering arm before heading to the mid-leg regroup.
Mikkelsen went off at the same point and was 17.3sec slower than his colleague. Meeke said he was taking a different cornering line to those ahead in a bid to find a cleaner grip on the icy surface.
Grading teams had worked through Wednesday night to re-prepare stages ready for the start of the rally.
Organisers sent road-levelling machinery into the Vargåsen, Värmullåsen, Torsby and Fredriksberg stages just hours after they were driven by competitors on the pre-event recce.
“We went out on the stages to grade them before the forecast cold weather arrives,” Rally Sweden Clerk of the Course Stig-Rune Kjernsli said.
The grading process smoothed ruts that appeared during the recce.