Toyota won its first World Rally Championship event since 1999 on Rally Sweden, after just two events into its comeback. Jari-Matti Latvala inherited the lead when Thierry Neuville crashed out on Saturday's last stage, for the second WRC event in a row, making heavy contact with a concrete block on Saturday's superspecial in Karlstad, while more than 40 seconds clear with only three stages to run.
With Neuville out, what had been an intense battle for second was promoted to the lead fight, with Latvala in top spot ahead of M-Sport's Ott Tanak and Sebastien Ogier and despite Saturday's loop being shortened due to concerns over high speeds, Tanak made the most of running further back on the road and was fastest on all three of the morning stages, cutting Latvala's advantage from 21.6s to 3.8s by the end of Saturday.
After sweeping stages as first car on the road on Friday, Ogier also joined the battle, and started Sunday 16.6s behind Latvala but two rapid times from the Toyota driver on Sunday morning extended his lead to over 20s before the powerstage while Tanak suffered with a loose rear end on his Fiesta and team-mate Ogier fell out of the fight with a spin at the first corner of the first stage on Sunday.
Latvala won the powerstage to grab an extra five championship points and finish with a margin of 29.2s in Toyota's first WRC victory since Didier Auriol won Rally China in 1999. Tanak took a second successive podium to start 2017, while Monte winner Ogier grabbed third and points for second on the powerstage.
Kris Meeke would have been on for fourth, but he crashed out of contention on Saturday afternoon, after a crest had unsettled his Citroen C3 before going off at a low-speed left-hander, dropping him to 12th in the final order but he did take fourth on the powerstage to secure two points.
Dani Sordo headed Craig Breen, who was struggling for confidence in his first event aboard Citroen's 2017 car but finished fifth for a second consecutive rally. Elfyn Evans hit a bank and suffered a puncture on Friday, then had an engine issue on Sunday morning, but still held off Hayden Paddon for sixth after the Kiwi had struggled with his Hyundai on Friday morning, but a set-up change at service improved things.
Stephane Lefebvre was the highest placed 2016-spec car in eighth, on only his second visit to Sweden and Mads Ostberg struggled on his debut in a 2017 car in his privately-run Ford Fiesta WRC which lost its rear wing on Friday, forcing him to drive two stages with limited rear downforce. He continued and with that rectified set top 10 times on his way to 15th. Skoda driver Pontus Tidemand won his home round in WRC2 in ninth overall, heading Teemu Suninen and OC Veiby.
Jari-Matti Latvala now leads the championship by four points from Sebastien Ogier after two rallies.
Top Ten Finishers:
Pos Driver Car Gap
1 Jari-Matti Latvala, M.Anttila Toyota 2h36m03.6s
2 Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja Ford 29.2s
3 Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia Ford 59.5s
4 Dani Sordo, M.Marti Hyundai 2m11.5s
5 Craig Breen, S.Martin Citroen 2m51.2s
6 Elfyn Evans, D.Barritt Ford 5m26.6s
7 Hayden Paddon, J.Kennard Hyundai 5m31.2s
8 Stephane Lefebvre, G.Moreau Citroen 7m14.7s
9 Pontus Tidemand, J.Andersson Skoda 9m11.1s
10 Teemu Suninen, M.Markkula Ford 10m02.9s
12th February, 2017
Toyota team leader Jari-Matti Latvala inherited the lead of Rally Sweden after Thierry Neuville crashed his Hyundai i20 out of the event while leading and controling the Saturday action to extend his lead to over 40 seconds, but he crashed on the end-of-day superspecial stage, losing a wheel and any hopes of a first win in Sweden.
The Hyundai Team aims to fix the car overnight before sending Neuville back out under Rally2 rules on Sunday, when he will have the chance to score points in the powerstage and what had been shaping up to be a three-way battle for second is now the lead fight, with 16.6s covering the group entering Sunday's final three stages.
After a succession of quickest stage times on Saturday morning, Ott Tanak had eaten into Latvalas advantage all day, reducing it to 3.8s after the superspecial. The M-Sport driver also has one eye over his shoulder as team-mate Sebastien Ogier began to claw back time on Saturday afternoon.
The four-time WRC champion cleaned the road on Friday and was unimpressive on Saturday morning compared to Fiesta colleague Tanak, but he came alive in the afternoon to sit third, 12.8s behind Tanak going into the final day. Dani Sordo drove consistently on Saturday afternoon, pushing where he felt comfortable in his Hyundai i20 and moved up earlier in the day thanks to his team-mate Hayden Paddon falling down the order with powersteering failure.
Paddon now sits seventh, behind Citroen C3 WRC driver Craig Breen and DMACK Fiesta WRC driver Elfyn Evans. Stephane Lefebvre is the last of the WRC cars in the top 10, albeit in a 2016-spec Citroen DS 3 R5, in eighth. Missing from the top 10 was Breen's team-mate Kris Meeke, who crashed out of fifth place on Saturday afternoon when he was caught out on a crest and went straight on at a slow-speed left hander on the second Hagfors test. He got going again losing eight minutes, with spectators pushing his beached car back onto the road.
Pontus Tidemand continues to lead WRC2 by over a minute in his works-backed Skoda Fabia R5.
Impressively, the home favourite is also ninth overall ahead of second-placed WRC2 man Teemu Suninen and OC Veiby's Fabia.
LEADING RALLY SWEDEN POSITIONS AFTER SS15:
Pos Driver Car Gap
1 Jari-Matti Latvala, M.Anttila Toyota 2h04m59.3s
2 Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja Ford 3.8s
3 Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia Ford 16.6s
4 Dani Sordo, M.Marti Hyundai 1m39.5s
5 Craig Breen, S.Martin Citroen 2m04.5s
6 Elfyn Evans, D.Barritt Ford 3m44.7s
7 Hayden Paddon, J.Kennard Hyundai 5m00.2s
8 Stephane Lefebvre, G.Moreau Citroen 5m37.0s
9 Pontus Tidemand, J.Andersson Skoda 6m36.7s
10 Teemu Suninen, M.Markkula Ford 7m52.9s
11th February, 2017
Thierry Neuville took up in Sweden where he left off in Monte Carlo after a dominant afternoon on Rally Sweden, retaking and extending his lead to a commanding 28.1 seconds after losing out to Jari-Matti Latvala on the last stage of the morning loop after hitting a rock but was back ahead in the Hof-Finnskog test. He then took 17.9s out of Latvala through Svullrya, the stage he had hit the rock on in the morning and extended the gap further on the Torsby test.
Meeke stole third from Tanak on the penultimate stage of the day, another second-quickest time to match one from the morning means the C3 WRC driver is in podium contention in fourth place and Tanak's team-mate Sebastien Ogier struggled with cleaning the road but a rapid time in Svullrya limited the damage and is now 3.9s behind Meeke but 55.7s adrift of Neuville with two days of action to go.
The new FIA regulations mean that Ogier won't have to run first on the road on Saturday and will have a better chance of competing for stage wins. Hayden Paddon put in a resurgent performance after changes at service unlocked a much more "drivable" Hyundai and having been at the back end of the top 10, the Kiwi was in the top five on all of the final three stages of the day to jump team-mate Dani Sordo for sixth.
In his first appearance in a 2017-spec WRC car, Craig Breen lost confidence after putting his Citroen in a bank but holds eighth ahead of Elfyn Evans who combined flashes of pace with a puncture that sent him down the order. Mads Ostberg had a difficult afternoon which included losing the rear wing of his new 2017-spec Ford Fiesta WRC over a fast crest but the precious wing was returned after a social media campaign by the team, seeking the reasons for the loss. Toyota driver Juho Hanninen retired after hitting a tree for the second rally in a row.
Skoda works driver Pontus Tidemand is dominating WRC2, over half a minute ahead of works M-Sport Fiesta driver Teemu Suninen.
Top Ten Positions after SS:8
Pos .... Driver .... Car .... Gap
1. Thierry Neuville, N.Gilsoul Hyundai 1h16m24.7s
2. Jari-Matti Latvala, M.Anttila Toyota 28.1s
3. Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja Ford 49.7s
4. Kris Meeke, P.Nagle Citroen 51.8s
5. Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia Ford 55.7s
6. Hayden Paddon, J.Kennard Hyundai 1m17.8s
7. Dani Sordo, M.Marti Hyundai 1m40.3s
8. Craig Breen, S.Martin Citroen 1m54.3s
9. Elfyn Evans, D.Barritt Ford 3m01.5s
10. Stephane Lefebvre, G.Moreau Citroen 3m23.6s
10th February, 2017
Following the final two stages of the 2017 Rallye Monte Carlo Historique Rally, played out in the bitterly cold and snow-covered Alps Maritimes it was the immaculate Belgian Opel Ascona 2000 of Michel Decremer and Yannick Albert that was declared the worthy winners of the 20th Monte Carlo Historique Rally when results were posted at rally headquarters in the sunlit Automobile Club De Monaco.
Of the 22 IRDC crews that had started the rally from 5 European staring points last Thursday, the winners of the IRDC Tyresoles Trophy was the well driven 1962 1600cc Porsche 356B of Jon & Christine Miles. Second IRDC crew was David Stanley & Ronald Northmore followed by Steve and Tony Graham in their familiar Lancia Fulvia 1600 HF.
Veteran navigator Willie Cave was disappointed to retire, after leading the IRDC contingent up to the last night and also celebrating his 90th birthday earlier on the event, when the 1300cc engine of David Mustardes 1963 Alfa Romeo cried enough before the last run through the mountains!
2nd February, 2017