|Thierry Neuville tops the standings on Friday night after a late attack at the 2017 WRC Rally Sweden.|
Neuville leads Rally Sweden after a thrilling duel with Jari-Matti Latvala in which the lead changed hands several times. He completed the longest leg of the four-day snow and ice encounter with a 28.1-second advantage in his Hyundai i20 Coupe after distancing the Finn with a hat-trick of afternoon speed test victories. Ott Tänak was third, a further 21.6 sec behind.
Neuville won the opening two tests across the border in Norway to demote Latvala, who led after last night’s short curtain-raiser. However, Latvala fought back to lead at the midpoint in his Toyota Yaris as the pair pulled clear.
Neuville edged ahead again by winning all three repeated stages, delivering a crushing blow as he outgunned Latvala by almost 18 sec in the penultimate test. The Belgian extended his lead in the final stage, despite hanging on to his door which refused to stay closed. “It’s been a good day’s work for us. To lead the rally by such a margin is obviously very encouraging, but we’re not getting carried away. My door kept opening slightly on the final stage, which was a distraction, but otherwise the car has been working very well,” Neuville remarked. “Jari-Matti had the advantage of the conditions in the first half, but the second half was better for me as the driving line was cleaner and I tried to take the benefit. The last stage was tricky in the dark and my door was opening which disturbed me.”
Snow flurries made the roads slippery this afternoon and drivers fought to keep their cars in the ruts where traction was best.
Tänak was the only other driver to win a stage. The Estonian bounced back into the top three after his Ford Fiesta’s gearbox was replaced when it started jumping out of gear.
Kris Meeke was 2.1 sec behind in fourth. The Citroen WRT driver yielded the final podium place to the recovering Tänak after a last stage mistake, after earlier losing 10sec when a bump threw his Citroën C3 off line and into a snowbank.
Road opener Sébastien Ogier endured the worst of the conditions but persevered to hold fifth, 3.9 sec behind Meeke. Hayden Paddon was next, the Kiwi revitalized in the second half after set-up changes to his i20 Coupe offset a disappointing first half.
In other incidents, Juho Hänninen retired his Yaris with a damaged radiator after hitting a tree, while Mads Østberg withdrew before the final stage after losing his Fiesta’s aerodynamic rear wing.