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Discussion Starter #1

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Back in its traditional slot as round two of the season following Rallye Monte-Carlo’s return to the calendar, Rally Sweden will continue to spread its wings in 2012 with almost the entire competitive route on day one taking place in neighbouring Norway.

Running for a 60th time, the event will once again be based in Karlstad with the permanent service park housed 85 kilometres away at Hagfors airport, where fans can get close up to the rally cars on several occasions during the rally.

Featuring 360 competitive kilometres over 24 stages, 11 of which will be run twice, the rally, which gets underway with a superspecial stage at Karlstad’s trotting track, has undergone a number of changes for 2012.

The bulk of Friday’s stages will take place in Norway with a remote service halt in the town of Kongsvinger. The visit to Norway will stir memories of the country’s world championship qualifier, which last ran to great acclaim in 2009. Following a regroup in Torsby, back across the border in Sweden, crews will service in Hagfors before returning to Karlstad for a second run of the city’s superspecial stage.

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Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
Rally Sweden in race for TV coverage solution
By David Evans Sunday, February 5th 2012, 21:06 GMT

Sweden 2011The organisers of Rally Sweden are working around the clock to try to find funding for international television coverage of the second round of the World Rally Championship.

Svenska Rally AB, the organising company, has established a deadline of midday Tuesday to conclude deals to show footage from the Karlstad-based event.

This situation arose following the FIA's decision to transfer the television rights back to individual events, in the absence of an agreement with Eurosport - which had seemed set to take over the promotion of the WRC after previous rights-holder North One Sport went into administration last month.

Rally Sweden CEO Glenn Olsson said: "Finnish company Filmworks, which has produced TV broadcasts from the WRC for five years running, is prepared to come to Sweden on short notice, but we cannot make any decisions regarding production until we have secured that the revenues are in parity with the costs."

The production firm could offer newsfeeds from every day of the event along with a daily 26-minute highlight show and a 52-minute event review show on Sunday.

The second WRC round of 2012 will be filmed and shown in Sweden by terrestrial firm SVT, but it is possible it will not be seen around the rest of the world.

ITV4 had agreed terms to broadcast the WRC in Britain, but that deal fell apart amid the North One situation.



Injured Matthew Wilson to miss Rally Sweden

Matthew Wilson has been ruled out of Rally Sweden after breaking his left ankle in a fall while training on Saturday.

The Briton fell awkwardly during a run in England's Lake District and was taken to hospital.

"It looks as though I've broken and dislocated my left ankle so, unfortunately, that means no Rally Sweden for me," said Wilson, who had started the season with a tough run to 11th in Monte Carlo.

"I was really looking forward to Sweden. We were a lot more prepared for this rally [than Monte Carlo] and we would have been looking for a good result. I'm absolutely gutted."

M-Sport will not run a substitute driver in Wilson's absence, so his team-mate Henning Solberg will be the only driver running under the Go Fast Energy Ford banner in Sweden.



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Discussion Starter #3
Jari-Matti Latvala tops World Rally Championship's first ever qualifying stage in Sweden

Jari-Matti Latvala has created history on Rally Sweden this morning, setting the fastest time on the World Rally Championship's first ever qualifying stage.

The Ford driver, running ninth on the road, ended the 2.4-mile qualifying stage 0.568 seconds faster than his former team-mate and two-time Rally Sweden winner Mikko Hirvonen's Citroen.

"I had no problem in the stage at all," said Latvala, whose reward for setting the top qualifying time is first choice of road position for tomorrow's opening leg.

"Maybe on one corner I was a little bit slower after I saw some rocks and went around them, but otherwise it was the perfect time for me. I am happy."

Not only is this the first qualifying stage, but it is also the first time a stage has been timed to the thousandth of a second - and that was crucial in deciding that second place; Ott Tanak's Go Fast Ford was just five thousandths of a second behind the DS3 WRC.

Russian Evgeny Novikov transferred his round one speed from the French Alps to the snows of Sweden with fourth fastest in another M-Sport-run Ford. Latvala's factory Ford team-mate Petter Solberg was fifth, 0.868s down on the Finn's benchmark.

Reigning world champion Sebastien Loeb was sixth fastest in his Citroen.



Start Order Set

The starting order for the FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia's first Qualifying Stage has been confirmed with eight-time champion Sebastien Loeb set to go first over the 3.99-kilometre course near the Hagfors service park.

Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena are among 21 Priority 1 and Priority 2 crews eligible for the test on Thursday morning, which allows the fastest drivers to choose their starting order for Friday’s stages.

Prior to the Qualifying Stage getting underway, crews will be allowed to complete two non-timed runs of the stage from 08:00hrs-10:00hrs local time. They will then get a single timed run over the stage, setting off in championship order in two-minute intervals from 10:30hrs.

Following the Qualifying Stage the driver with the fastest time will be allowed to choose pick their starting position first with the second fastest driver next to choose until all available positions have been selected.

Ford World Rally Team’s Petter Solberg is a big fan of the concept. The 2003 world champion said: “It’s a great idea. Every driver has the possibility to earn the start position they want with a good performance in qualifying. It also provides another opportunity for the media to talk about the rally in the build-up to the start.”



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Discussion Starter #4
Ford World Rally Team man Jari-Matti Latvala topped the times this morning in Sweden in the very first WRC qualifying stage.

Latvala was over half a second up on his former team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen, completing the 3.99 kilometre test in 1 minute 53.516 seconds. He will now get first pick of start position for tomorrow's opening leg.

“I had no problem in the stage at all,” Latvala told the official WRC site. “Maybe on one corner I was a little bit slower after I saw some rocks and went around them, but otherwise it was the perfect time for me.

“I am happy with the time I set and the position I am in, but certainly there is a lot to be thinking about before we decide what place we take. We have to think about the weather and a few other factors: it's not so straightforward.”

Further back, Ott Tanak came in third, only fractionally slower than Hirvonen, and running for the Go Fast Energy World Rally Team on this event after Matt Wilson had to pull out following a training injury.

Evgeny Novikov and columnist Petter Solberg round out the top five, giving Ford a 1-3-4-5 sweep.

Sebastien Loeb had to settle for sixth, ahead of Mads Ostberg, Eyvind Brynildsen and Patrik Sandell in positions 7 through to 9, the latter the lead MINI. Martin Prokop completes the top ten.

Rally Sweden now continues this evening, with SS1, the short 1.90 km Karlstad SSS, kicking off proceedings at 20.04 hours local time. The action begins 'proper' on Friday.

Rally Sweden: Qualifying stage (Top 12):

1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC 1min 53.516s M
2. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 1min 54.084secs M
3. Ott Tanak Go Fast Energy WRT Fiesta RS WRC 1min 54.089secs M
4. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC 1min 54.131secs M
5. Petter Solberg Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC 1min 54.384secs M
6. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 1min 54.727secs M
7. Mads Ostberg Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC 1min 54.877secs M
8. Eyvind Brynildsen Ford Fiesta RS WRC 1min 55.729 secs
9. Patrik Sandell Prodrive MINI John Cooper Works WRC 1min 56.317secs
10. Martin Prokop Czech Ford National Team Fiesta RS WRC 1min 56.723secs
11. Dani Sordo Prodrive MINI John Cooper Works WRC 1min 56.724secs
12. Henning Solberg Go Fast Energy WRT Fiesta RS WRC 1min 56.758secs M

all times unofficial



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Discussion Starter #5
Sweden SS1

Dani Sordo took the spoils at tonight's opening 1.9km Super Special Stage in Karlstad. The Spaniard, piloting a MINI WRC, finished 0.3 seconds ahead of snow specialist Mads Ostberg in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC.

Sub-zero temperatures and a glorious firework display greeted the WRC crews ahead of Rally Sweden's opening Super Special, and on his competitive debut on snow in the MINI, Sordo was out to impress.

"The stage was really, really nice," he said. "We are happy now but it was just a short stage and tomorrow is going to be a long day."

Estonia's Ott Tanak was third quickest, 0.3s behind fellow Fiesta RS WRC driver Ostberg. "For me, that stage was like a Mickey Mouse stage. The aim was to make it through without any problems and then the real competition starts tomorrow," said Tanak.

Seven-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb completed the Super Special matching Norway's Petter Solberg's time to sit joint fourth overnight in their Citroen and Ford respectively.

An elated Solberg said he could not wait to compete on home soil tomorrow: "That was a fantastic start. I am really, really pleased with that! I'm very excited for the rally moving to Norway tomorrow. It's going to be an amazing atmosphere with my home fans!"

Finns Mikko Hirvonen (Citroen) and Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford) finished sixth and seventh respectively, with Latvala reporting a loss of time at the start line.

In the SWRC category, Proton's P-G Andersson - a firm favourite with locals - completed the stage quickest.

Hayden Paddon finished second quickest in SWRC with Alister McRae, bringing the legendary McRae name back to the WRC, in third. Ireland's Craig Breen is sixth in the support series after losing time with a right-rear puncture on his Fiesta S2000.

click: ss1


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Discussion Starter #6

Sweden SS2

Mads Ostberg moved into the lead of Rally Sweden as he shared the fastest time on stage two with Jari-Matti Latvala.

A repeat of last year's Sweden battle between Ostberg's independent Ford and a works Fiesta driver already appears to be brewing, as Ostberg and Latvala set equal best times of 14m13.0s on Mitandersfors.

"It was a good stage for us," said Ostberg. "I took it very steady in many places but I think that's what paid off really.

"It was a clean stage for me, not a big push, just very confident through the stgae. I'm not pushing, we'll just stay on this speed and see how it goes."

That performance gave Ostberg an early 1.9-second lead over Latvala, who is just 0.1s ahead of his former Ford team-mate - and double Sweden winner - Mikko Hirvonen. The factory Citroen driver was third quickest on the stage, and felt there was a lot more to come as his confidence in the car on snow builds.

Petter Solberg thoroughly enjoyed himself on the stage that passes his house, and felt that being only fifth fastest was largely due to others having better road positions.

"It was a fantastic stage, fantastic," said Ford driver Solberg. "I think people behind will be getting much cleaner roads all the time but I'm very happy with my stage and hello to all the people on the farm!"

World champion Sebastien Loeb pipped Solberg to the fourth fastest time, but is only sixth in the overall order behind super special winner Dani Sordo's MINI. Loeb took a 10s penalty first thing this morning for being a minute late out of service.

click: ss2



Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg moved the works Ford team into one-two formation at the head of the Rally Sweden order after stage three, Opaker.

World champion Sebastien Loeb was actually the quickest man on the stage in his Citroen DS3 WRC, but Ford Fiesta RS WRC duo Latvala and Solberg were just a few fractions of a second down on the Frenchman.

Latvala felt he could have done better: "There was one place we were heavily in the snow bank and also near the end of the stage. What it looks like is you have to have a totally clean run, if you touch the snow banks you lose so much time."

Team-mate Solberg was pleased to have done such a quick time given he was one of the earliest frontrunners in the start order.

"Of course it's cleaning behind me, you can see that on some of the splits, but I'm very happy with my performance in the position that I'm in. Everything is absolutely fantastic," said Solberg.

Loeb beat Latvala by 0.2s and Solberg by 0.7s, leaving him 12.4s off Latvala's overall lead in fifth place.

"I've seen Jari-Matti and Petter's times, and it's difficult to be a lot faster than that," Loeb mused. "We are behind and it's not easy at the moment."

click: ss3



Citroen DS3 WRC drivers grabbed the top three times on stage four of Rally Sweden, allowing Mikko Hirvonen to close to within a few fractions of a second of overall leader Jari-Matti Latvala.

Although the Kirkener stage is just 7.1 kilometres long, Hirvonen managed to beat team-mate Sebastien Loeb to the fastest time by 1.9 seconds, and to take 3.5s out of his erstwhile Ford team-mate Latvala, who held on to his outright first position.

"You really need to push hard to fight against those Ford boys," Hirvonen said. "There is a long way to go, but we have to stay in the fight and we're there, so that's good."

Latvala's team-mate Petter Solberg had been second after stage three, but a spin on stage four dropped him to fifth overall behind Mads Ostberg (Adapta Ford) and Sebastien Loeb (Citroen).

"We had a spin and got stuck and lost maybe 15s," said Solberg, who was 11.5s off the fastest time. "We need to just calm down and not think about it."

click: ss4



Mikko Hirvonen leads a round of the FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia in a Citroen for the first time after winning stage five and moving ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala's Ford Fiesta RS WRC.

Hirvonen had edged onto Latvala's tail by going quickest on the preceding stage, and he maintained that pace to win Finnskogen by 1.9 seconds and take a 2.9s overall lead.

"We are maybe finding a little bit of feeling with the car," smiled the Finn, as he continued settling into the Citroen DS3 WRC. "It's good, the stages are in surprisingly good condition and I enjoyed that one. I'm having a good time."

Latvala felt he was costing himself time with small errors, having only been fifth quickest on the stage.

"I'm not completely happy, I'm losing the rear and it's making me angry because I can't get clean runs - every stage I make little mistakes," he said. "I'm trying to get a balance with the driving. We'll have a think about it at service and see if we can do anything."

Second quickest time for Mads Ostberg ensured his Adapta Ford stayed just ahead of Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) and Petter Solberg (Ford) in an extremely tight battle for third. The trio head for service covered by just 4.3s.

click: ss5


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Discussion Starter #7
Friday Midday Wrap

A spectacularly close-fought opening morning of Rally Sweden ended with Mikko Hirvonen emerging in a narrow lead over Jari-Matti Latvala.

In only his second FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia outing in a Citroen DS3 WRC, Hirvonen moved to the front by virtue of fastest times on stages four and five, having got ever quicker through the loop.

Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver Latvala had led through stages three and four, following a brief cameo at the front by Mads Ostberg's Adapta Ford, but reckoned he was losing too much time with minor errors - which he felt were a mix of his set-up and over-exuberance. The gap between the former Ford team-mates at the front of the field is 2.9 seconds at present.

After leading at the end of stage two, Ostberg found his set-up less co-operative for the different conditions of stages three and four, before rebounding with the second quickest time on stage two. That allowed him to stay third, 10.3s off the lead, and just ahead of Citroen's Sebastien Loeb and Ford's Petter Solberg.

The latter pair were both ruing delays. Loeb picked up a 10s penalty on the way out of today's first service when set-up changes over-ran following a late decision to take a second spare wheel, while Solberg was a close second behind Ford team-mate Latvala until spinning on stage four.

Dani Sordo - winner of last night's superspecial in the lead MINI - remains a close sixth, sitting between the podium battle and M-Sport Ford's Evgeny Novikov.

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Discussion Starter #8 (Edited)

Mikko Hirvonen's lead over Jari-Matti Latvala in Sweden is down to 0.4 seconds after a resurgence from the Ford driver on the first stage after the lunchtime service.

But it was Sebastien Loeb who was fastest of all on the second run through Opaker, moving the world champion past a perplexed Mads Ostberg into third place.

Latvala had been frustrated that he kept losing time with the rear of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC sliding this morning, but felt set-up changes at service had paid off.

"The car feels better than it did this morning, it has more grip to the rear so I was happy with that," he said. "It's going to be an interesting fight."

Hirvonen was third quickest, losing 2.5s to Latvala, but remained calm.

"It is a very close fight," said the Citroen DS3 WRC driver. "There is a lot more gravel now and the car feels like it is understeering a lot, so I took it a little bit easier."

click: ss6



Sebastien Loeb has tumbled out of the Rally Sweden top 10 after going off the road on stage seven of the event.

The reigning world champion went off at the second corner of the short Kirkener stage and his Citroen DS3 WRC was stuck for nearly two minutes.

Loeb had just closed to within 6.9 seconds of the rally lead by winning stage six, but his incident on the next test dropped him to 2m03.0s from the front in 11th place.

Rally leader Mikko Hirvonen was quickest on the stage, despite not enjoying its condition.

"It was okay, lots of gravel and now it's starting to be very, very hard for the tyres," said the Citroen driver.

That result stretched his lead over Jari-Matti Latvala's Ford to a still close 1.1s, with Latvala pleased with his performance on the stage even though he dropped a little time.

"I was not happy with how this stage went in the morning so I tried to improve and now I was quite happy - it was quite a good performance," said Latvala.

click: ss7



Fastest time on the repeat of Finnskogen put Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver Jari-Matti Latvala back in the Rally Sweden lead by 2.6 seconds over Mikko Hirvonen, as the former team-mates' ferocious contest in the snow continued.

Latvala had led until the final stage before service this morning, when Hirvonen slipped ahead.

But after set-up changes at service, Latvala came back with a vengeance this afternoon, and on stage eight he took 3.7s out of the Citroen and reclaimed first position - despite feeling he could have handled the icy conditions better and being distracted by cars stopped on the stage.

Hirvonen was not surprised to lose the lead, having made set-up changes that did not pay off.

"That was not the best one," he admitted. "I did some changes to the car and it was not as good as before, so I took it a little bit steady.

"Jari-Matti will be in front of me a little bit now, but it's okay, there's still a long way to go."

click: ss8



The final full-length stage of the first full day of Rally Sweden proved a happy hunting ground for Ford, as Jari-Matti Latvala charged into a 17.2-second lead and Petter Solberg won the stage to move into a clear third.

Tyres were the main talking point, as the less-than-snowy conditions left drivers struggling to hang on to their studs through the second loop.

Latvala ended the stage convinced his tyres were "too finished" - but he fared far better than Citroen rival Mikko Hirvonen, who was 22s slower than his sparring partner and fell 17.2s behind in the overall standings.

"It's just the tyres are completely finished," said the disappointed Hirvonen.

Solberg was a further 7.4s quicker than Latvala, having saved his fresh tyres for later in the loop - a tactic he initially feared might have backfired.

"Unfortunately with losing 15 seconds with the spin [earlier today] and losing five or six for not putting on new tyres before the short stage, there were a couple of mistakes," he said, before realising he had closed to within 20s of the lead and 2.8s of Hirvonen's second place - as well as pulling 11.6s clear of Mads Ostberg to take over third place.

"There are two long days to go anyway. I enjoyed today very much. I'm getting used to the car and will get faster and faster through the weekend, for sure."

click: ss9


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Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)

Petter Solberg completed Friday of Rally Sweden with a second straight stage victory as he closed a little further on second place by winning the evening superspecial.

The Ford driver had closed right in on Mikko Hirvonen by winning stage nine, and then clipped another second from his Citroen rival's advantage by going quickest on stage 10 as well.

That performance means Solberg ended the day 1.8s behind Hirvonen, and 18.6s behind his rally-leading team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, who was fourth on the superspecial.

click: ss10


Friday Wrap

Day one of Rally Sweden 2012 saw a frenetic lead battle and first position changing hands multiple times - but by the time the leg was done, Jari-Matti Latvala had managed to burst clear of the pack and established a 16.8-second cushion.

It looked highly unlikely that anyone would be able to pull out such an advantage as Latvala spent most of the day swapping tenths with former team-mate Mikko Hirvonen - the Ford and Citroen repeatedly exchanging the top spot. Mads Ostberg had also managed to lead for a spell in the Adapta Ford, while Petter Solberg (Ford) and Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) were in contention at times.

But as the day progressed, Latvala's challengers fell away one by one.

The biggest drama befell Loeb. The champion and current points leader made a shock mistake early on stage seven and lost two minutes extricating his Citroen from a snow bank. He has already surged back from 11th to seventh, but the podium looks a long way away.

Ostberg felt his set-up wasn't quite right for the stages that were more field than forest based, then in the afternoon he was perplexed by his relative lack of pace, and also had some brake worries. That meant he ended the day just over half a minute adrift in fourth.

Solberg spun down to fifth near the end of the morning, but a canny decision to save his fresh tyres for the latter stages of the afternoon loop - by which time most drivers were lacking studs in their rubber - saw him surge back into the hunt.

He ended the day 13.7s clear of Ostberg, and just 1.8s behind Hirvonen, who struggled badly with worn tyres on stage nine and saw Latvala charge into the distance.

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Discussion Starter #10


Mikko Hirvonen was determined to put the pressure back on Rally Sweden leader Jari-Matti Latvala as day two got underway, but it was the Ford man who set the pace on the leg-opening Vargasen stage.

Latvala came through 2.2 seconds faster than Hirvonen to set the fastest time, extending his overall advantage to 19s - despite having been slower than his rival early on the stage.

"It looked like at the beginning of the stage Mikko was already two seconds ahead of me, so I was slightly stressed at that moment," Latvala admitted.

"It was a part of the stage I have never driven very well. But after that I found a good rhythm on the fast, wider roads."

Hirvonen vowed not to let his former team-mate get away, though.

click: ss11



Jari-Matti Latvala pulled a little further away from Mikko Hirvonen in the Rally Sweden lead battle on stage 12, while Mads Ostberg edged slightly closer to Petter Solberg in their fight for third after the works Ford driver stalled at the stage start.

Latvala (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) was quickest on the stage, adding 0.9 seconds to his lead over Citroen driver Hirvonen, which made the gap 19.9s with two stages to go before service. The leader put his pace down to a more intelligent approach to the stage.

"I remember in the past I have pushed really, really hard on this stage and gone wide into the snow banks, so I tried to be more clever this time," Latvala said.

Hirvonen is confident his Citroen DS3 WRC is quick enough to close Latvala down as he gets ever more comfortable in it.

"I'm very happy with the car, it just needs a little more speed from myself to be able to fight Jari-Matti," he said.

Solberg's lead over Ostberg in the battle for third came down by 0.6s to 8.2s after Solberg stalled at the start - although he recovered several of the lost seconds with a charge through the stage.

click: ss12



Mikko Hirvonen trimmed 1.9 seconds from Jari-Matti Latvala's Rally Sweden lead as the Citroen man went quickest on the Fredriksberg stage.

Latvala's Ford Fiesta RS WRC had been inching away so far this morning, before Hirvonen stepped up his pace and got back within 18s of his rival in the overall standings.

"It's very, very close. But I really love it," said Hirvonen. "It's nice to have a good fight, and in a new car as well.

"I'm trying to take some time out of him and put some pressure on him. I've definitely been pushing really hard this morning. But there's always a little bit more left..."

Latvala said stage 13 just had not been quite to his taste.

"I didn't have a comfortable feeling, it felt very, very slippy and difficult to get the grip on this stage," said the rally leader.

"I took it a bit too steady at the beginning of the stage. I could've improved."

click: ss13



The short Hagfors Sprint stage saw a little bit of rallying history, as hotly-tipped Ford protege Ott Tanak took his first stage win in the FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia.

The Go Fast Energy Ford driver is running a long way down the order after accidents both yesterday morning and this morning delayed him by nearly half an hour in total, but his raw pace is certainly not in doubt, as he demonstrated with a series of quick times leading up to his pacesetting run on stage 14.

Sebastien Loeb's Citroen DS3 WRC was second quickest, allowing the champion to carve 5.6 seconds out of Henning Solberg's advantage in their battle for sixth. The Go Fast Ford is now just 12.1s in front.

In the overall lead battle, Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford) was 0.6s quicker than Mikko Hirvonen's Citroen on the stage, which means they are now 18.6s apart - to Hirvonen's slight frustration.

click: ss14

.. :D

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Discussion Starter #11
Saturday Midday Wrap

Jari-Matti Latvala kept the competition at bay through the second morning of Rally Sweden - but Mikko Hirvonen certainly has not given up hope of victory.

After a nip-and-tuck battle through the loop's four stages, the former Ford team-mates headed for the midday service 18.6 seconds apart.

As he did yesterday, Latvala has been focusing on keeping things tidy - calming his style on stages where in previous years he had been prone to brushing the snow banks too much, while Hirvonen felt he was getting quicker and quicker with every kilometre in the Citroen DS3 WRC.

Latvala said: "The pressure is on, but it's better this way. It's a big fight. This afternoon is now very important."

Friday ended with Latvala's Ford team-mate Petter Solberg snapping at Hirvonen's heels, but the 2003 champion was not able to match the two leaders' pace this morning and is now 21.3s away from second place and under pressure from behind.

Mads Ostberg may have been struggling with an unbalanced Adapta Ford after a puncture leaving service forced him to run a right-side tyre on the car's left rear, but that hasn't stopped him chipping away at Solberg's advantage and getting the gap down to seven seconds.

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Discussion Starter #12 (Edited)

Jari-Matti Latvala took another stage win on stage 15 of Rally Sweden, but was only 0.1 seconds faster than his rival for victory, Mikko Hirvonen.

Though there has been little to choose between the duo all weekend, their near-inseparable times on Vargasen made things took their closeness to another level.

Both men said they had been taking it easy to conserve tyres for a charge later in the day.

"I tried to save my tyres," said Ford driver Latvala. "I was a little bit worried as there was so much gravel on the road not to destroy the tyres. I preferred to back off a bit."

click: ss15



Stage 16 of Rally Sweden was a spectacular one for factory Ford duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg, as first and second fastest times saw them pull away from their rivals for the lead and final podium spot respectively.

Latvala's outright lead advantage over Citroen rival Mikko Hirvonen is now up to 23.6 seconds. Hirvonen still hopes he can strike back on the next stage, having conserved tyres on Sagen.

"Let's see, there's one [full-length] stage to go and I've tried to save my tyres a little bit so let's see what we can do in the next one," he said.

But Latvala reckoned a flat-out push on Sagen was the better option.

"We had a really good feeling, we were really enjoying this stage," he said. "Now it's going to be interesting in Fredriksberg, let's see how our tyres are.

"I wanted to come here fast because I felt this was a very important stage - I believe it's so gravelly on Fredriksberg that studs don't make such a big difference if they are moving or not."

click: ss16



Mikko Hirvonen's decision to save tyre grip for the relatively long Fredriksberg stage appeared to pay off as the Citroen went fastest on stage 17 - but with Jari-Matti Latvala only 2.7 seconds slower, the Ford still holds a 21.1s lead.

Latvala felt it was better to push harder earlier in the afternoon and build a gap, a decision he felt had been justified as he surveyed the stage 17 times.

"Let's see at the end of the day how much we lost here. At the moment it's a good feeling, I'm quite confident," he said.

Hirvonen said he used everything his tyres had left as he took the stage win.

"I know my tyres are completely shattered now, I don't have any studs left," he said.

click: ss17



Ott Tanak and Sebastien Loeb were equal fastest as day two of Rally Sweden was rounded off with a second visit to the Hagfors Sprint stage.

The first visit to the stage earlier today had seen Tanak claim a maiden World Rally Championship fastest stage time, but this evening Loeb equalled his pace as he continued his recovery drive after delays from a trip off the road, a spin and a puncture.

Citroen man Loeb's performance on the stage allowed him to edge ahead of Henning Solberg and end the day in sixth position, but for Tanak (Go Fast Energy Ford) - having lost nearly half an hour in incidents so far this weekend - only pride was at stake.

At the front of the field, Ford driver Jari-Matti Latvala's lead over Mikko Hirvonen stands at 23 seconds going into day three after the Citroen - which had little grip left on its tyres - dropped a couple of seconds on the very icy stage.

click: ss18


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Discussion Starter #13
Saturday Wrap

Despite Mikko Hirvonen throwing everything he had at him, and the need to plot tyre tactics amid a lack of snow on some stages, Jari-Matti Latvala produced an exemplary drive to maintain his Rally Sweden lead through day two

The advantage on the stages ebbed and blowed between the two Finns all day, but the cushion Latvala had built up with his spurt near the end of Friday proved vital.

Even when Hirvonen's Citroen was a little quicker today, there was still no need for Ford man Latvala to worry too much - and a blistering performance on stage 16 added a few more seconds to his 23-second lead margin just to make things even more secure.

With six more stages to go on Sunday, nothing is guaranteed yet, but Latvala has reason to feel confident after a mature performance today. Not that Hirvonen - in only his second FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia outing in a Citroen DS3 WRC - has any reason to be displeased with his achievements today, as he promised there was much more to come as he got ever more comfortable in the French team.

Petter Solberg fell off the lead pace today, although he regained some speed when he switched to Ford team-mate Latvala's set-up. The former champion was able to fend off the hard-charging Mads Ostberg - helped a little by the Adapta Ford jumping into launch mode midway through stage 17 - despite feeling that he was still getting the hang of the Ford Fiesta RS WRC on the ever-changing mix of snow, ice and gravel.

"It's maybe the toughest rally for me to just jump in," said Solberg. "Tomorrow will be a hard day."

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Discussion Starter #14


Jari-Matti Latvala moved a big step closer to Rally Sweden victory as he started the final day with the fastest time on stage 19.

The Ford driver pulled a further 7.6 seconds clear of the chasing Mikko Hirvonen's Citroen, bringing his lead up to half a minute with five stages to go.

Latvala said he knew that a quick start to the last day could make all the difference.

"It gives a bit more of a relaxed feeling now," he said. "I knew that if he was going to come back, he was going to come back on the first one, so that's where I needed to be quick."

Hirvonen admitted that he was less comfortable in his car this morning.

"I was not confident at all and had a couple of big slides, and it's very slippery and was a narrow road," he said. "I took it steady, I didn't want to make a mistake when I didn't have a good feeling.

"We did some changes to the car just to see if we could save tyres a bit more and it wasn't so good. Better to be here than over there [off the road]."

click: ss19



Mads Ostberg piled the pressure on Petter Solberg in the third place battle in Sweden as the Adapta Ford driver set the second quickest time behind Jari-Matti Latvala on stage 20.

While Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver Latvala's second stage win of the morning stretched his outright advantage over Mikko Hirvonen (Citroen) to 35.3 seconds, Ostberg came through just 0.4s down on Latvala to close to within 6.8s of the Finn's team-mate Petter Solberg.

"It's a good morning, we are pushing quite hard and it's working well, so we are happy," declared Ostberg.

Solberg admitted Ostberg was simply proving faster so far today.

"I'm trying everything I can and he's driving very well," said the former champion. "I made a couple of mistakes in there. We will try."

click: ss20



Mads Ostberg was quickest for a second straight stage as the Rally Sweden contenders had their first run through the Hagfors test that will be used as the Power Stage this afternoon.

The Adapta Ford driver was 1.9 seconds faster than second-quickest man Petter Solberg (Ford), his rival for the final podium spot. The gap between them is now just 4.9s with three stages to go.

Despite going quickest, Ostberg felt the stage conditions had been tough.

"There is a lot of snow in the road, it's very difficult to keep the line, and there are some big rocks in the road," he said.

"You need to follow the lines, but then there is the risk of a puncture. We were pushing quite hard on the last two stages so the tyres are not perfect."

Overall top two Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen - who are now split by 35.6s in the outright standings - both took a cautious approach, though they were still third and fourth in the stage results.

click: ss21


Sunday Midday Wrap

Jari-Matti Latvala just has to keep things steady through three more stages to kickstart his 2012 FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia title bid with Rally Sweden victory after his rival Mikko Hirvonen fell back on the final morning and admitted Latvala could not be caught.

Hirvonen had hoped a set-up change this morning would preserve the tyres on his Citroen DS3 WRC better, but instead it left him struggling to find confidence to really lean on the car. Latvala pulled away by seven seconds on the first stage alone, and afterwards Hirvonen conceded that his gallant push for victory was over and he would have to settle for second as he dropped over half a minute adrift.

"I'll just try to save my tyres a little bit, keep my position and then try to attack on the Power Stage," he said.

Hirvonen added that he would keep an eye on the chasing Petter Solberg, but Latvala's factory Ford team-mate looks far too busy trying to resist the Adapta Ford of Mads Ostberg to think about trying to hunt down Hirvonen. The charging Ostberg has inched a little closer to Solberg with every stage today and is now just 4.9 secnds behind.

"I'm trying my best," Solberg promised.

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Discussion Starter #15 (Edited)

The battle for Rally Sweden victory dramatically came alive again three stages from the end as Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg both picked up tyre damage on their works Ford Fiesta RS WRCs.

Latvala had charged into a 35-second lead over Mikko Hirvonen this morning, but saw that gap slashed to 8.4s with two stages remaining after hitting a rock on Lesjofors.

"There is a rock I've never, ever seen on this stage," said Latvala. "It's just come through the ruts on the big wide road. I only felt it when I hit it."

Though he still thinks his lead will be sufficient, Latvala admitted he was now under a lot of pressure.

"Now we need to push," he said. "It should be quite okay still. I have to go flat-out."

Fellow factory Ford driver Solberg suffered exactly the same problem on the stage, losing half a minute and handing third place to weekend-long sparring partner Mads Ostberg.

"There's just a lot of rocks out there. I touched one and that's it. Very disappointing," said Solberg.

click: ss22



If anyone thought Jari-Matti Latvala's stage 22 puncture was going to jeopardise his chances of Rally Sweden victory, he quickly dismissed such notions by flying to the fastest time on stage 23 and bringing his lead over Mikko Hirvonen back up to 12 seconds.

But with a tricky Power Stage still remaining, Latvala remained tense and was taking nothing for granted.

"Luckily I managed to take some time from Mikko. This gives a little more margin for the Power Stage," he said.

"I have to be incredibly focused for this stage. We need this win for the team. I made one mistake, I have to get myself together for the finish now."

Latvala's nerves may be unnecessary though, as Hirvonen insisted his victory bid was over.

"I had to give up quite early on this stage. It was so slippery and I had a couple of big moments," he said. "I did the first stage flat-out and destroyed my tyres, and okay Jari-Matti had a puncture, but then his tyres are much better for this stage. I can't fight against him now."

The Citroen driver was also pessimistic about his chances of picking up anything from the Power Stage.

"With these tyres that would be some sort of a miracle, but you never know," said Hirvonen.

After Petter Solberg's stage 22 puncture all-but-guaranteed that Mads Ostberg would finish third, Solberg decided to drive conservatively through stage 23 and save tyres in the hope of grabbing some bonus points.

"It was too bad. I'm very, very disappointed," he said of his tyre blow. "In this stage I just took it very, very calm. I'll try to get the three points on the Power Stage. It's good for Mads, he has done a very good job."

click: ss23


SS24/Power Stage

Jari-Matti Latvala has clinched Rally Sweden victory

Sebastien Loeb may have only been able to finish sixth overall in Rally Sweden, but he picked up three handy extra points for his 2012 FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia title campaign by winning the Power Stage.

The world champion had earlier hinted that he would not be risking everything on the final stage as he suspected there would be too many rocks on its surface. But when he realised the Hagfors test was holding up better than he had anticipated, he decided to press on and ended up fastest by 4.9 seconds.

"I tried to still push in this one, "said Loeb. "It was not much worse than the first pass so I had to try."

Second place Power Stage points went to Petter Solberg, despite the Norwegian picking up his second puncture of the day.

"I tried to push very hard on the power stage but had another puncture unfortunately," said Solberg.

The final Power Stage point was collected by Jari-Matti Latvala in the other works Ford, as he took his score for Sweden up to 26 by also clinching the outright victory.

An impressive run from Czech National Ford driver Martin Prokop saw him just miss out on a bonus point in fourth on the stage times, ahead of outright podium finisher Mads Ostberg (Adapta Ford).

Overall second-place finisher Mikko Hirvonen took it easy over the Power Stage was only seventh.

click: ss24 power stage


Sunday Wrap

It wasn't exactly an easy run to the finish for Jari-Matti Latvala, but the Ford number one kept his head through a tense final morning to claim Rally Sweden victory and get his 2012 FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia title challenge properly underway.

Latvala came into the leg with a 23-second advantage over Mikko Hirvonen, and quickly extended that to over half a minute as his Citroen rival realised that a set-up change intended to ease tyre wear worries actually cost him confidence in the DS3 WRC.

It was just as well Latvala had built that lead, though, as on stage 22 he struck a rock and picked up a right-front puncture, leaving him only eight seconds in front of Hirvonen.

The incident left Latvala kicking himself and anxious to regain his focus, but it didn't take him long to regain control, as he quickly pulled away again - Hirvonen's tyres being too worn to let him truly fight - and went on to win by 16.6 seconds and collect a Power Stage bonus point too.

"It is amazing. Four years ago I won this rally and now I got it again," he said.

"The first time I won this rally I became the youngest ever winner of a world championship rally and beat my hero Henri Toivonen's record. It's fantastic to win it again.

"We got a lot of pressure after Monte and I felt the pressure coming to this event. This has taken a lot of pressure out of the coming events.

"I think we're really going to challenge Citroen. We're working very hard."

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Next Round: WRC Mexico

Mexico hosts the first gravel event of 2012 with new stages, more competitive kilometres, a remote service halt and a monster 55-kilometre test on the final morning of the rally just some of the exciting changes to the itinerary.

But while the format has undergone several tweaks, the rock-strewn tracks, high ambient temperatures and altitudes will continue to provide the main challenge for the WRC crews on their first of two visits to the American continent during the season.

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