Neuville scores first win of the season at WRC Rally Sweden

 

The WRC Rally Swedeb saw Hyundai WRT’s Theirry Neuville take his first win of the season. Neuville won by 19.8 seconds over Citroën’s Craig Breen with fellow i20 WRC driver Andreas Mikkelsen finishing third; a Hyundai 1 – 3 finish.

Neuville kept calm in the heat of a furious fight to win Rally Sweden on Sunday and took the lead in the standings over 5-time Champion Sebastien Ogier, who . The Belgian became only the third non-Nordic driver to win the calendar’s solitary pure winter rally and end an agonising 12-month wait after crashing out of a comfortable lead last year.

Neuville overcame an electrical glitch with his Hyundai’s paddle shift gearchange system, a lurid spin into a snow bank and extreme pressure from the chasing pack to win the four-day encounter on snow and ice-covered forest roads by 19.8sec. He finally broke clear of his pursuers on day two and eased through final day’s last three speed tests to head Breen, who scored second, his career-best result. “An incredible result, I felt we deserved the win last year, but perhaps even more so this weekend. We have many people working tirelessly every day behind the scenes to give us a competitive car, one with which we can fight for victories. This win is for all of them; it’s been a fantastic weekend,” said the Swedish rally winner.

Taking 25 points for the win and an additional two points in the Power Stage, the Hyundai man is now leading the drivers’ championship after two rounds. As a team, Hyundai have also jumped up to the top of the manufacturers’ table in a closely fought contest with Toyota, Citroën and M-Sport.

Breen carries the Citroen WRT banner to a runner-up spot

Breen climbed to second on Saturday when Mikkelsen spun at exactly the same point as Neuville. He kept his composure to hold off the Norwegian, team-mate to the rally winner, by 8.5sec. Meanwhile, Esapekka Lappi hounded Neuville early on until he plunged down the order after burying his Toyota Yaris in a snow bank. He fought back and gained two places in the final three stages to finish fourth, 17.5sec adrift of Mikkelsen. However, a final stage mistake from Hayden Paddon made life easier for Lappi as he led home the Hyundai driver by 8.6s. Paddon stalled his i20 a couple of km from the finish.

Mads Østberg was sixth on his debut drive in a C3. The Norwegian ran as high as second but he slid down the order as unfamiliarity with the car and a lack of confidence in its set-up cost time. While, Jari-Matti Latvala, who delivered Toyota Gazoo Racing a fairytale win last season on only the Japanese manufacturer’s second rally back at the top level after a 17-year absence, was seventh after being delayed by a troublesome front differential and adverse road conditions. Fellow Finn Teemu Suninen was seventh in a Ford Fiesta and the leading M-Sport WRT after the squad, which headed the manufacturers’ standings after last month’s Rallye Monte-Carlo, endured a nightmare weekend: Ott Tanak and Ogier were ninth and tenth, after some issues in the first leg and never caught to the rally leaders.

The championship journeys to Mexico next month for 2018’s first taste of gravel roads. Rally Guanajuato Mexico is based in León from 8 – 1 1 March.

2018 WRC Rally Sweden classification

1. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 2hr 52min 13.1sec
2. C Breen / S Martin IRE Citroën C3 + 19.8sec
3. A Mikkelsen / A Jaeger NOR Hyundai i20 + 28.3sec
4. E Lappi / J Ferm FIN Toyota Yaris + 45.8sec
5. H Paddon / S Marshall NZL Hyundai i20 + 54.4sec
6. M Østberg / T Eriksen NOR Citroën C3 + 1min 15.3sec
7 J. M. Latvala / M. Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2:04.9
8 T. Suninen / M. Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:52.2
9 O. Tänak / M. Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) +3:44.4
10 S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +5:27.4

World Rally Championship standings (after round 2 of 13):

1. T Neuville 41pts
2. S Ogier 31pts
3. J-M Latvala 23pts
4 E. Lappi 23
5 O. Tanak 21
6 A. Mikkelsen 21 
7 C. Breen 20
8 K. Meeke 17
9 H. Paddon 10 
10 E. Evans 9