Wording the World Rally Championship’s pre-event press release last week must have been tricky. TV rights may have been finalized at the eleventh hour, but a series promoter – following the departure of North One Sport – had yet to be found, while news that Mini would no longer offer full works support to the Prodrive team was just plain baffling.
Throw in the fact that only twice since 1998 has a Finnish driver not topped the Rally Sweden podium and the die was cast. Then again, the WRC’s first ever qualifying stage and a fluctuating leaderboard on day one suggested post-event reading would require less rose tints.
Mads Ostberg – last year’s Swedish Rally underdog – got the ball rolling by setting the joint fastest time on the opening stage in his privately run Ford Fiesta, before a stage win vaulted Citroen’s Mikko Hirvonen ahead. As it was, Team Abu Dhabi Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala – the series’ first ever ‘polesitter’ – claimed the top spot after a tight first day battle with Hirvonen.
Those hoping for a meteoric dice between the former Ford team-mates were left disappointed. Having taken better car of his tyres, Latvala shot into a 17s lead, which soon became 23s when limited snowfall on the Torsby stage caused Hirvonen’s tyres to start shedding studs. But a careless mistake on the antepenultimate stage caused Latvala to damage a wheel, slashing his lead to just 8s. Having lost a win in Monte Carlo in similar circumstances, the Finn was relieved to maintain his advantage to the finish.
Though disappointed to miss scoring a WRC Rally Sweden hat-trick, Hirvonen finished a tactical run in second to secure his first podium for Citroen. The Finn had been under pressure early on from Petter Solberg only for the Ford driver to drop back with limited grip. The ’03 WRC Champion was forced to borrow team-mate Latvala’s data as a recovering Ostberg – having lost time with a puncture exiting service – closed the gap. An errant spin on the final stage cost Solberg third place and secured his fellow Norwegian a second straight Swedish Rally podium.
Last time out in Monte Carlo, Sebastien Loeb celebrated a hard-fought victory while Latvala rued a lost opportunity after a careless mistake. How quickly these roles were reversed. After receiving a ten second penalty for overshooting his time in service on day one, the reigning WRC Champion lost a further two minutes by grounding his Citroen DS3 on a snow bank just a few corners into the ninth stage, subsequently dropping to 11th. Another spin and a puncture on the final day meant sixth place – snatched from M-Sport’s Henning Solberg with the finish line in sight – was the best Loeb could hope for.
Evgeny Novikov repeated the strong fifth place he scored in Monte Carlo with another impressive run, while fellow Ford Fiesta runners Martin Prokop and Eyvind Brynildsen rounded out the top ten. Qatar’s own Nasser Al-Attiyah, having just rinsed the Dakar sand from his race boots, completed a solid first outing with the WRC Citroen team in 21st.
With the world’s sporting media watching their every move, there would be no fairytale result for ‘WRC Mini’. Despite topping the pre-event Superspecial, technical gremlins spelt the end of Dani Sordo’s event shortly after the ninth stage. With the Spaniard’s team-mate Kris Meeke parked for the event, privateer Patrik Sandell’s eighth place was the marque’s sole result >>>
Shots – rallysweden.com