Sébastien Ogier led from start to finish to secure his third Rally Sweden victory on Sunday and preserve his maximum points start to the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship.
The reigning world champion drove his Volkswagen Polo R to a 29.8sec success in the Karlstad-based snow and ice rally to add to his 2013 and 2015 triumphs.
Ogier also claimed full bonus points for winning the final Power Stage and after two of the 14 rounds the Frenchman has maximum championship points.
A big thaw before the start threatened the season’s only pure winter rally as the frozen gravel roads turned to mud. By the time the cold weather returned, nine of the 21 speed tests in Sweden and Norway had been axed, but up to 10cm of snow and temperatures as low as -10˚C ensured the event went ahead.
Ogier’s dominance was challenged during Saturday’s second leg when he had to sweep fresh snow from the roads to create a cleaner line for those behind. His half-minute lead was slashed to less than 10sec by Hayden Paddon before he reasserted his authority.
“Winning in Sweden again is an incredible feeling. I just love this rally. The conditions were far from ideal at the start of the week after the thawing and all the rain, which makes it all the more pleasing that we eventually had a really good, wintery Rally Sweden. Yesterday, we probably had to take the greatest risk of our career in order to win. It paid off, and I am just really happy,” said Ogier after the finish
New Zealand’s Paddon matched his career-best result on his debut in Hyundai’s new i20 and became the first non-European driver to finish on the Sweden podium.
He survived a late scare after hitting a wooden post metres from the finish of the last stage.
The impact damaged the radiator and Paddon and co-driver John Kennard filled a small hole to stem a fluid leak before driving cautiously on the 85km liaison section to the finish.
“It was probably one of the worst stages I have had in my life,” said Paddon. “I found it really difficult to drive being in a sort of no-man’s land with nothing to gain and everything to lose. My lines were wrong, I made a whole lot of mistakes and then I clipped a wooden post on the inside of a corner.
“I didn’t think anything of it, normally it wouldn’t be a problem, but I must have caught it at a peculiar angle and it put a hole in the radiator. I may not have showed it but initially I did have concerns. It’s never good to see steam and water coming coming out of the car. It was a relief when we found it was quite a small hole and we could fix it.”
Mads Østberg completed the podium in a Ford Fiesta RS, 25.8sec behind Paddon and 15.2sec ahead of fellow Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen ran as high as second but a time-consuming spin on Saturday ended his podium hopes.
Ott Tänak and Dani Sordo completed the top six in a Fiesta RS and i20 respectively, a front left puncture ending the latter’s top three challenge. Henning Solberg and Craig Breen, driving Citroën’s DS 3 for the first time, were next up with WRC 2 winner Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen completing the leaderboard.
Jari-Matti Latvala (driveshaft), Thierry Neuville (transmission) and Kris Meeke (suspension) all finished down the order after opening day problems.
The championship heads to gravel for the first time next month when León hosts Rally Guanajuato Mexico (3 – 6 March).