Ott Tänak leads Rally Sweden heading into the final day by 8.6 seconds over Hyundai’s Craig Breen after a dramatic afternoon loop with several tyre failures and a hybrid issue for a front-runner.
Overnight rally leader Craig Breen started the day off strong. He posted the third-fastest time in the opening stage and followed that up with a stage win in SS10. The Irishman complimented his Hyundai team for the strong engine in the i20 N Rally1: “Fair play to the Hyundai engine boys, they’ve done a cracking job. That was very much a ‘power’ stage. We’re in a safe rhythm,” Breen said at SS10 stage-end.
Having good power is vital on the super-fast Rally Sweden stage. The stage-winning pace in SS9 and SS10 was 141 km/h and 139 km/h respectively. The long straights make it more difficult to make a difference. Despite his stage-winning pace, Breen ‘only’ increased his overall lead from 2.6 seconds to 5.7 seconds over Ott Tänak who was still very much in the mix for the victory this weekend.
Tänak never was fully satisfied with the feeling of his Puma Rally1. The final stage of the morning loop, SS11, felt ‘’better’’ for Tänak: “It’s not so fast and we were able to manage it a bit better,” said the Estonian. The average speeds were indeed “a bit” slower, however, still very incredibly high with speeds well over 127 km/h on average.
Breen struggled a bit more in SS11: “I never got to do this stage last year and this was my first time discovering it. There were places I was a little too cautious and hesitant,” he said at stage-end as he lost time to Tänak but still led the rally after the morning loop by 3 seconds.
Tyre delaminations mix things up in the afternoon
An afternoon full of twists and turns started with a stage win in SS12 for Kalle Rovanperä who decreased the gap to Esapekka Lappi to just under 10 seconds. Ott Tänak was just 0.2s behind Rovanperä but crucially applied more pressure on Breen as the Estonian was 1.3s faster than the Irishman, closing the overall gap to just 1.7 seconds.
Elfyn Evans struggled for balance in his GR Yaris Rally1 in the morning loop and dropped behind Rovanperä in the process. Things got worse for the Welshman as he hit a snowbank and spun in SS12 and then had another high-speed moment to lose 19.4 seconds to drop 17.4 seconds behind Neuville as well.
In SS13 the drama unfolded with a spin for Kalle Rovanperä who misjudged his braking point, meaning that he had to flick his car around and make a pirouette to continue his way. He minimised his time loss but lost 3.4 seconds to Neuville who won the stage.
Things didn’t go well for Lappi who went off into a snowbank in the final, very high-speed, corner of the longest stage of the rally (28.25 km). The Finn was stuck for seven minutes and managed to complete the stage with the help of spectators. At stage-end, it became clear that the Hyundai driver’s front-right tyre had delaminated: “We had a small vibration on the straight before and I thought there was ice or something on the tyre, then it disappeared.
“It seems the tyre delaminated and I approached the final corner but I had no grip,” said Lappi who plummeted to P12. There was more drama, however. Breen completed 1.2 seconds off Tänak’s pace, but also had a tyre delamination (front-left): “It was a delamination in a straight line,” said the rally leader who saw his advantage trimmed to just half a second. Breen was surprised he hadn’t lost more time when he heard that he had ‘only’ lost 1.2 seconds to Tänak: “Aaaaah, I thought it was worse than that.”
Tänak was on an absolute flier in the following SS14. At the final split, he was 9.5s up on Breen but then also had a tyre delamination on a straight line. Tänak lost around 8 seconds from the final split to the finish and still managed to take the lead of the rally as Breen was 2.8 seconds slower than the Estonian. With one stage to go Tänak the lead by 2.3 seconds over Breen.
Neuville meanwhile took his third stage win of the day to be joint third place overall with Rovanperä. “Thierry must have better tyres than us. I had a clean stage but the rear tyres are completely gone and I couldn’t do much more.”
Tänak lost 4 seconds to Neuville in SS15 but crucially 6.3 seconds faster than Breen who had a sideways moment at the beginning of the stage: “We tried to the best we could, but again in this one it’s so difficult to get the car to do what I want,” said Breen who trails Tänak by 8.6 seconds heading into the final day.
Breen revealed in the regroup after the final stage of the day that he carried an issue with the hybrid system from SS12 onwards, meaning he had driven three stages without the additional 136 horsepower (100 kW).
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Thierry Neuville was the fastest man of Saturday with four out of seven stage wins. The Belgian went from sixth at the beginning today up to the final podium spot and is now 23.7 seconds behind the leader. Rovanperä isn’t far behind in P4, 3.8 shy of Neuville. Evans ends a frustrating day in P5, half a minute behind his team-mate Rovanperä and over a minute and a half ahead of M-Sport driver Pierre-Louis Loubet.
Oliver Solberg is in seventh overall and dominates in WRC2. The young Swede has a 51.6-second advantage over Ole Christian Veiby. Sami Pajari is in ninth overall followed by Nikolay Gryazin who isn’t registered in the WRC2 this weekend. Esapekka Lappi is in eleventh place overall, just 6.4 seconds behind Gryazin.
Three are three more stages to go on Sunday. These stages are total 63.04 competitive kilometres. SS16 Västervik (26.48), starts at 07:05 (CET) local time (06:05 BST, 01:05 AM ET, 10:05 PM PT).
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WRC Rally Sweden 2023 – O/A standings after SS15 (End of Saturday)
|#||Drivers||Car||Time / Diff. to 1st|
|1.||Tänak / Järveoja||Ford Puma Rally1||1:54:45.4|
|2.||Breen / Fulton||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+8.6|
|3.||Neuville / Wydaeghe||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+23.7|
|4.||Rovanperä / Halttunen||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+27.5|
|5.||Evans / Martin||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+57.7|
|6.||Loubet / Gilsoul||Ford Puma Rally1||+2:28.1|
|7.||Solberg / Edmondson||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+5:55.0|
|8.||Veiby / Eriksen||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5||+6:46.6|
|9.||Pajari / Mälkönen||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+7:08.9|
|10.||Gryazin / Aleksandrov||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+7:20.0|
|11.||Lappi / Ferm||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+7:26.4|