Craig Breen leads Rally Sweden after a closely fought Friday with Ott Tanak. Breen has a narrow gap of 2.6s to the Ford driver whilst his teammate, Esapekka Lappi sits further back in third.
Rally Sweden started on Thursday with a night-time run through Umea Sprint and it was Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera that came away from the test with the rally lead. Characterised by hairpins and jumps, the 5.45km stage provided a test for crews but it was the 2022 champion that mastered it. Behind was Ott Tanak in his Ford with a gap of 1.6s to Rovanpera followed by Elfyn Evans, rounding out the top three.
Rovanpera didn’t remain in the lead for long though due to having road opening duties for Friday. Instead, Ott Tanak set the pace for the morning loop. The Estonian didn’t produce a stage win at all in the first three stages, but it was his consistency in the Ford Puma Rally1 which left him at the top.
Craig Breen, in his second outing, followed the Ford, and made the most of his road position to make inroads towards the leaders. A brilliant run through Brattby in particular, meant that the Irishman jumped from seventh to second in the standings.
In the afternoon, Breen continued his form to jump into the lead after the first test and re-enforced that position to create a gap of 10.5s to Tanak. While the Hyundai driver would keep his lead for the rest of the day, Tanak started taking time out of it with a stage win on the penultimate test followed by another good performance on a re-run of Umea Sprint. This left Breen with a gap of 2.6s by the end of the day.
“Definitely one of my strongest ones. Last year I was usually upside down or stuck in a hedge somewhere, so it’s music to my ears to be in the lead tonight. It’s the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and we’re all invited – I can’t wait!” said Breen after the last stage.
With a gap of 11.2s to Breen, Lappi had a consistent run throughout the day although bemoaned the feeling that he could have been faster on the higher speed tests but was also weary of making mistakes.
Elfyn Evans finished the day as the top Toyota in fourth after struggling with the balance of his car in the morning loop but despite it improving for the afternoon, a wild run through the last stage left the Welshman frustrated.
Evans was followed by Rovanpera who managed to cap off a day of road clearing with a win in the final stage, just as he did the night before.
Sitting 5.7s back from Rovanpera was Thierry Neuville. The Belgian was not only battling a car with understeer but also the flu and a few missing parts to his bumper as he made contact with one of Sweden’s many snowbanks.
Pierre-Louis Loubet suffered from a hybrid fault which left the Frenchman down on power as well as an overshoot on the final stage. All of which culminated in Loubet finishing 1m 16.2s down on Tanak at the end of the day.
It was Takamoto Katsuta that had the worst day however, the Japanese driver rolled his car on SS5 causing a lot of damage. Katsuta did start SS6 but the damage to the Toyota was too great, so he had to pull the car over with an overheating engine and retire from the day.
Standings after Friday:
- Breen – 57min 5.5s
- Tanak – +2.6s
- Lappi – +11.2s
- Evans – +26.5s
- Rovanpera – +31.1s
- Neuville – +36.8s
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