WRC – Latvala leads; disaster for Neuville

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Thierry Neuville had consolidated his position at the top of the Rally Sweden leaderboard and, with just under 60 competitive kilometres to run, was set to take a massive advantage into Sunday’s closing stages. However, in a dramatic turn of events, the Belgian took a wheel off in the day’s closing super special stage, dashing all hopes of becoming only the third non-Scandinavian winner of Rally Sweden. As such, Jari-Matti Latvala leads overnight, and Neuville’s retirement has set the scene for a three-way battle for victory between the Finn, Ott Tänak and Sébastien Ogier, the trio split by 16.6 seconds overnight.

Today’s route was scheduled to take in two loops of three stages before the crews headed south for the second and final run around the Karlstad super special stage. Neuville had controlled his pace throughout the day, times within the top three and one stage win enabling him to strengthen his long-standing advantage. He had run without problems all day, only being distracted by a strange smell in the car on the penultimate stage. But then in the 1.9 kilometre super special stage, the Belgian hit a concrete block and broke a wheel, handing the lead to a surprised Latvala. The Finn has admitted during the day to being overcautious in some places and was the only driver to take two spare tyres this morning, consequently suffering with the extra weight in the Yaris WRC. But even his best efforts were unlikely to stop a charging Tänak who slashed last night’s gap of 21.6 to just 9.2 seconds with three fastest times this morning. This afternoon, the Estonian reduced the gap further, despite running wide in the penultimate stage, and will continue pushing Latvala for a maiden WRC win while keeping team-mate Ogier at bay. The Frenchman enjoyed a better road position today but has struggled to make real inroads on his rivals. When pushing harder he kept losing grip and while he has a healthy advantage over fourth-placed Dani Sordo, Ogier’s never give up attitude will doubtless see him push Latvala and Tänak hard for the top step of the podium. 

Sordo had good confidence this morning and had to keep pushing hard this afternoon with Craig Breen not too far behind. The Irishman has been determined to keep it clean and not make any silly mistakes in his debut outing in the C3 WRC and is happy to have had good speed in places. He is 25 seconds adrift of Sordo with a good advantage over sixth-placed Elfyn Evans. Hayden Paddon dropped from an earlier sixth to 10th after power steering failure in the first stage. Carrying the problem through three stages, the Kiwi haemorrhaged time all morning but a better afternoon saw him regain three places to overnight in seventh. Stéphane Lefebvre, driving the older specification DS3 WRC, is eighth; he lost nearly 30 seconds hitting a snow bank this afternoon. Team-mate Kris Meeke has plummeted down the leaderboard with an off in the penultimate stage; he lost eight minutes.

Ninth overall is Pontus Tidemand and the Swede also heads the FIA WRC 2 Championship in his Škoda Fabia R5.  He has extended his lead to over a minute today and heads the battle for second in the category between Teemu Suninen and Ole Christian Veiby. The pair are split by just 5.3 seconds going into the final day on Sunday. 

While the day was scheduled to include two loops of three stages, the first stage this afternoon, a re-run of the new 31.60 kilometre Knon stage, was cancelled for safety reasons following an analysis of the average speeds. “The stage would have been too fast even with the 2016 specification cars and we need to continue looking closely at the selection of stages, especially new ones, on all rallies,” said Michèle Mouton, FIA Rally Safety Coordinator. 

The final day of competition takes in three stages and 58.81 competitive kilometres, the closing Torsby Power Stage offering additional points for the fastest five drivers and co-drivers.

Rally Sweden – Provisional results after Section 6

1.   Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila

Toyota Yaris WRC

2hr 04min 59.3sec

2.   Ott Tanak/ Martin Järveoja

Ford Fiesta WRC

2hr 05min 03.1sec

3.   Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia

Ford Fiesta WRC

2hr 05min 15.9sec

4.   Dani Sordo/Marc Marti

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

2hr 06min 38.8sec

5.   Craig Breen/Scott Martin

Citroën C3 WRC

2hr 07min 03.8sec

6.   Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt

Ford Fiesta WRC

2hr 08min 44.0sec

7.   Hayden Paddon/John Kennard

Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

2hr 09min 59.5sec

8.   Stephane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau

Citroën DS3 WRC

2hr 10min 36.3sec

9.   Pontus Tidemand/Jonas Andersson

Škoda Fabia R5

2hr 11min 36.0sec

10. Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula

Ford Fiesta R5

2hr 12min 52.2sec

World Rally Championship

Rally SwedenWRCWRCSEASON 2017SportRallies1SportWorld Rally ChampionshipRalliesWRCSEASON 2017Rally SwedenWRC00Saturday, February 11, 2017 – 7:18pmSaturday, February 11, 2017 – 7:18pm http://ift.tt/1nrhiOR

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