Mikko Hirvonen leads Rally Sweden

Mikko Hirvonen posted two fastest stage times to top the overall standings at Rally Sweden. Sébastien Loeb lies fourth, despite being handed a ten-second penalty.

Just prior to starting the rally’s first stage, held yesterday evening at Karlstad racecourse, the crews chose their starting positions for day one of the rally. Mikko Hirvonen and Sébastien Loeb chose to start in 18th and 19th positions in order to drive on roads cleared by the first few cars on the stages. After finishing further back in Thursday’s qualifying stage, Thierry Neuville, Peter Van Merksteijn and Nasser Al-Attiyah started in 2nd, 3rd and 6th positions respectively.

The day did not get off to a good start for Sébastien Loeb, who was handed a 10s penalty as he left the service park. “We changed the set-up at the last minute and ended up arriving at the control point a minute late,” explained the eight-time World Champion.

After improving his pace on each stage, Mikko Hirvonen set the fastest times on SS4 and SS5, which meant he edged ahead in the overall standings: “I knew the car would be fast here and I had a really good feeling. Everything went well and I think I can go even faster.”

Stage winner on SS3, Sébastien Loeb trails his team-mate by 12.7s: “That means we’d be fighting it out for the lead if we hadn’t picked up the penalty. The differences in the times are always very small in Sweden and the ten seconds won’t be easy to make up. Like Mikko, we played it safe by taking two spare tyres with us.”

First out on the road on SS3, Thierry Neuville lies in 18th position, 2m 35s behind the leader: “Our starting position wasn’t ideal, but Paulo Nobre’s retirement on SS2 made our job even more difficult! Anyway, we are here to learn about driving on a very specific surface. I’m not taking any risks and I have corrected my pace notes, which were a little too optimistic in places. We just need to keep going.” The Belgian is half a minute ahead of Dutch driver Peter Van Merksteijn Jr., who is also learning all about Norwegian stages.

Twenty-fifth overall, Nasser Al-Attiyah is not really paying attention to his times: “I am taking the time to learn how to drive the Citroën DS3 WRC on a surface where I am far from at home! The gaps are quite big but that doesn’t matter this weekend. I really want to avoid making a mistake which would cut short the time we have to get to grips with the car.”

The crews have already set off on this afternoon’s stages after a 15-minute remote service period at Kongsvinger. Cars will start heading back to the Hagfors service park at 4.45pm and the day will be rounded off with a second run on the Karlstad super special stage (7.20pm).