For the second World Rally Championship event in succession, we were spoilt with an epic battle for the lead. But while it was M-Sport and Sébastien Loeb that triumphed on the Monte Carlo Rally, Rally Sweden belonged to Toyota and Kalle Rovanperä.
Here are Colin Clark’s driver ratings from the second event of the WRC’s new Rally1 hybrid era.
Kalle Rovanperä 10/10
Rally Sweden result: 1st
“It doesn’t feel great to celebrate too much. It’s been a really difficult weekend for people in Ukraine and I wish them strength and hope. It’s all I can do at this moment.”
For these words alone I’d give Kalle the maximum score. When just about everyone else in the service park was skirting around the terrible situation in Ukraine it takes the compassion, empathy and understanding of youth to show us all the way forward – maturity way beyond his years.
Oh, and he drove brilliantly too. Incredible composure, he never looked stressed or pushed. This result, alongside Elfyn’s woeful weekend, firmly establishes the young Finn as this year’s early championship favorite.
Elfyn Evans 3/10
Rally Sweden result: DNF
A disastrous weekend for the Welshman. A difficult Monte, and expectations of a strong performance here from Rovanperä, perhaps added up to too much pressure for Evans to handle. There’s no questioning his speed, he was right there in the mix heading into the final four stages, but he’d been a bit scruffy all weekend. And on SS16 a bit scruffy became disastrously scruffy.
OK, we can debate the merits of the 10-second penalty for his off route excursion on SS15 all day long, but there is no doubt that the ramifications of the penalty were far greater than the actual addition to his timecard. Evans was rattled, distracted even; he was now in a fight for second with a charging Neuville and that meant a change of strategy that I believe ultimately lead to his off.
Difficult times right now for Evans and he has a mountain of work to do to reel in a rampaging Rovanperä in the championship fight. But Evans is a master at compartmentalising, and he knows that if he takes it rally by rally, and enjoys some success, Rovanperä is far from uncatchable.
Esapekka Lappi 8/10
Rally Sweden result: 3rd
Sharing a car for a season is never easy but sharing a car with the legend that is Sébastien Ogier is pretty much an impossible task. Ogier jumps in and inevitably pushes for the win. Lappi jumps in and is there to be shot down.
But on this showing that’s a long way from reality. Lappi really hasn’t had much seat time at all over the last 18 months and his testing time in the new generation GR Yaris Rally1 has been limited.
OK, so maybe that showed across the course of 17 stages but my goodness, for someone who was jumping in this car competitively for the first time, Lappi looked mighty impressive. He was quick to point out his own shortcomings, but ultimately he did exactly what the team needed him to do and the mighty encouraging thing is that there is clearly more to come form the massively talented Finn.
Takamoto Katsuta 8/10
Rally Sweden result: 4th
Katsuta-san has endured a really torrid time since the breathtaking highs of that first podium in Kenya all those months ago. I’ve never seen him as dejected as he was after the Monte off.
This, though, was his opportunity to start putting in place those building blocks necessary to restore his confidence and firmly put him back on the path to the podium. And my goodness, he grasped that opportunity with both hands and delivered exactly the kind of showing we were all hoping to see.
There was intelligence and maturity on day one when he didn’t feel entirely comfortable, followed by pace and performance on days two and three. It’s so important now that he follows this result up with another solid showing on the asphalt of Croatia at the end of April.
Thierry Neuville 9/10
Rally Sweden result: 2nd
It wasn’t the cleanest of weekends for Neuville, but my goodness he wrung every last bit of performance out of that Hyundai and chanced his luck all the way to the podium. The car clearly suits the long, fast stuff way better than the tight technical stuff and Thierry capitalized on that brilliantly.
Andrea Adamo used to say that Neuville delivered more than the car was capable of and once again I believe that’s what we saw here.
The podium will be a massive boost for the team but let’s not get carried away, Hyundai is still a long way behind its rivals with much work still to do.
Ott Tänak 9/10
Rally Sweden result: 20th
I’m still feeling sore for Tänak. It’s just, in my opinion, so wrong that having bullied his way almost to the lead of the rally he’s forced to super rally by a technical issue with the third party hybrid unit. How can it be possible that the penalty for stopping because of driver error or component malfunction is the same as stopping because a part you have to run, provided by a third party, spits the dummy?
Baffling – and very much in need of addressing.
Anyway, for most of Friday Tänak was right there and after the woes of Monte, that alone will give him a little bit of hope for the rest of the year.
Oliver Solberg 6/10
Rally Sweden result: 6th
I really don’t know where things went wrong for young Solberg here on his home event. It all looked so promising as he completed SS4 in second place and a mere 1.6 seconds off the lead. But it went very much downhill from there – with no real convincing explanation as to why.
It’s clear that Oliver has a whole load of talent and and even more potential, but this wasn’t anywhere near the performance he was hoping for. The positives are the early pace and the sixth place finish at the end of the event.
Still some work to do for young Solberg then but plenty of good, high-speed seat time here gives him something solid to build on after the dramas of Monte.
Craig Breen 1/10
Rally Sweden result: 36th (last)
I can’t tell you how much it hurts to give my favorite driver just about the lowest score possible, but I genuinely can’t justify any more than that. And his one point in the powerstage is the only reason he gets one point in my ratings.
With currently no real depth to its driver lineup, M-Sport massively relies on Breen, with Loeb missing, to demonstrate just exactly what the magnificent Puma is capable of. And there’s very little demonstrating you can do sat on top of a snowbank on SS2 of the rally.
Breen came into this event as possibly the most consistent performer at the top level so maybe we just have to put this down to one of those things that invariably happens in rallying.
What I’m fervently hoping though is that there hasn’t been a fundamental change in approach from Breen as number-one driver that maybe he’s struggling to deal with. Breen’s calling card and his undoubted strength is he joie de vivre, his passion for rallying and his uniquely upbeat approach to life.
Let’s hope a wee bit of that hasn’t been nibbled away here.
Gus Greensmith 6/10
Rally Sweden result: 5th
A little bit of a scrappy weekend for Gus that was plagued by niggling mechanical issues and frustrating mistakes. But he stuck in there and came home in a very creditable fifth.
It’s easy to overlook the lack of mileage that Greensmith has on this surface, and I guess that showed at times. He showed in Monte that he’s comfortable with this car and that he has the potential to be fast in this car.
That’s Greensmith’s two least favorite events of the year out of the way, so now is the time to build on a solid start to the season and show us that he really does have the ability to bolster M-Sport’s driver lineup and deliver the much needed podiums.
Adrien Fourmaux 6/10
Rally Sweden result: DNF
How difficult must this event have been for the talented young Frenchman off the back of that monster crash in Monte? Very difficult I imagine.
Yet Fourmaux went about things in a very intelligent and sensible way, gradually rebuilding his confidence and speed. We saw glimmers of the rapid pace we know he’s capable of but much more of the thoughtful intelligent driving we perhaps thought he wasn’t so capable of.
His rally ended with a technical issue before the start of the final day but there was plenty there for Fourmaux to be pleased about.