This is only the third of the nine speed tests run so far in Rally Sweden that Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Gazoo Racing) haven’t been fastest. In fact, it was current FIA World Rally Championship points leaders Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT) that topped the times sheets on the 2.80km thrash that was Torsby Sprint 2 to conclude the second full day of WRC action this weekend. The Welshman has claimed five of the eight possible fastest stages in Rally Sweden, with a lead he has no intentions of relinquishing to the win-hungry rivals nipping at his heels.
It was the Belgian ace’s first stage win this weekend as he aims to reel in Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (M-Sport Ford WRT) to take fourth place overall in a weekend that’s seen Neuville on his toes as he battles to find a speedy rhythm, but despite their scratch time through SS9 they’ve only closed the gap to Lappi in fourth to 5.4 seconds. Interestingly, team-mates Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (in the third Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT) are in turn breathing down their necks just 4.5 seconds behind. Admittedly, it is unlikely that Breen will overtake Neuville: Neuville is playing for the Championship and his team boss Andrea Adamo has likely instructed Breen to hover nearby but not hassle the Belgian.
Overall leaders Evans/Martin still lead Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT) by 17.2 seconds now despite finishing the stage fourth fastest. Tomorrow sees just one stage; will it be enough for Evans to cling to their lead to take their second-ever WRC victory and their first for Toyota Gazoo Racing in only their second event with the new squad and WRC car? Tänak will do everything humanly possible over tomorrow’s Likenäs 2 stage’s 21.19km to take victory.
Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Gazoo Racing) stole second fastest stage time by 0.3 seconds behind Neuville and 0.4 seconds quicker than Evans, while team-mates Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen finished the stage 2.1 seconds behind the Neuville and 1.9 seconds slower than Ogier. This drops the teenager behind Ogier/Ingrassia on the general classifications this evening, by just 0.5 seconds.
Lappi continues to hold fifth place overall, Neuville sixth and Breen seventh overall – all three within 9.9 seconds of each other. Lappi’s team-mates Teemu Suninen/Jarmo Lehtinen are eighth overall this evening, with Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota Gazoo Racing) in ninth, while Jari Huttenen/Mikko Lukka (Hyundai i20 R5) round out the top ten.
In the WRC2 fight, Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën C3 R5) is still leading Ole Christian Veiby/Jonas Andersson (Hyundai i20 R5) by 15.8 seconds, while Pontus Tidemand/Patrik Barth (Skoda Fabia R5 Evo) holds onto third place.
Tom Kristensson/Joakim Sjoberg lead the Junior World Rally Championship category by 41.8 seconds over Martins Seks/Renar Francis and Lauri Joona/Ari Koponen by 51.5 seconds in the one-make Ford Fiesta R2T class.
After cancelling SS10 Likenäs 1 tomorrow morning, the competitors will tackle the repeat of that stage to decide the final outcome of the 2020 Rally Sweden.
Top Ten after SS9:
01) E. Evans (Toyota Yaris WRC) – 58m 55.7s
02) O. Tänak (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +17.2s
03) S. Ogier (Toyota Yaris WRC) +28.8s
04) K. Rovanperä (Toyota Yaris WRC) +29.3s
05) E. Lappi (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +34.7s
06) T. Neuville (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +39.2s
07) C. Breen (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +49.7s
08) T. Suninen (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +01m 14.8s
09) T. Katsuta (Toyota Yaris WRC) +01m 37.4s
10) J. Huttunen (Hyundai i20 R5) +03m 39.1s