Lappi heads Katsuta after dramatic day in Sweden

Hyundai driver has 3.2-second lead, while WRC2 driver Oliver Solberg holds incredible third place

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The battle for Rally Sweden victory has become a duel between Esapekka Lappi and Takamoto Katsuta on a dramatic first full day of action, as expected pacesetters Kalle Rovanperä and Ott Tänak both retired on the same morning stage.

Hyundai driver Lappi leads by 3.2 seconds over Katsuta’s Toyota. In an incredible third place overnight, more than a minute further behind, is WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg, who benefited from improving conditions through the stages as heavy snowfall exacerbated the expected road-sweeping effect.

Katsuta’s GR Yaris was handed an 11.4-second lead over the i20 N of Esapekka Lappi at lunchtime service but Lappi overhauled the advantage on very challenging conditions through the afternoon stages.

So strong was the cleaning effect on the stages that five WRC2 cars topped the SS5 #42 Brattby times, ahead of Lappi. But Lappi halved his deficit to Katsuta, then edged ahead on the next stage before eking out another 1.4s on the day-ending Umeå Sprint stage.

“It is [a nice feeling],” admitted Lappi. “We need to take the confidence from today and start to concentrate for the rest of the rally.

“For sure, I used the road position advantage, clearly in the afternoon [but] I was also not too slow against Kalle in the beginning so I’m fairly satisfied with that.”

Describing the difficulty of driving on the dark SS7 Floda amid snowfall, Lappi said: “You cannot use all the extra lights [due to reflection of the snow], so you have to just use the low beam. And when you are driving over 160km/h it’s a bit crazy when you cannot see far. But you have to trust the notes.”


Katsuta drew on his inner Marcus Grönholm with his reaction to the same stage: “Oi, oi, oi, that’s horrible. To be honest, we went nearly off. You cannot see anything.”

The Japanese driver remained cautious about his prospects for victory, saying: “Of course it’s good, this is what I wanted to do for this race, but still it’s only one day.

“Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow should be more clear conditions and better conditions for us so let’s keep pushing on.”

Solberg delighted the home fans with his performance and provisional podium position, which came despite handbrake trouble costing him time at junctions.

M-Sport driver Adrien Fourmaux lies fourth overnight, 5.6s down on Solberg. Fourmaux overhauled Toyota’s Elfyn Evans through the afternoon stages as Elfyn Evans was forced to open the road for the final three stages.

That itself was one of the day’s biggest talking points, as Thierry Neuville appeared to have an issue with his car before SS6 Norrby. Seemingly unable to start the car, which he said was a recurrent fuel pressure problem that had also occurred at the previous refuel, Neuville checked in four minutes late, earning himself a 40s penalty but – crucially – dropping behind Evans on the road.

The Toyota driver was clearly unimpressed. “I guess the spirit of competition has got out the window,” he said, expressing doubt over the issue, before adding: “Let’s wait to cast judgment on that before we say something we regret.”

Evans, who earlier in the day survived a 360-degree spin, struggled for grip on the loose snow and with poor visibility. He suffered a trip through a snowbank and dropped to nearly two minutes off the pace.

“I can’t even see from here to that sign in front of me,” said Evans at the end of SS7, “and it’s like this fast. Bit bonkers but we’re here.”

He did manage to climb back ahead of WRC2 runner Georg Linnamäe’s GR Yaris Rally2 – which was fastest of all on SS5 – on the final stage, by just 0.1s, to lie fifth overnight.

The WRC2 Toyotas of Sami Pajari, Roope Korhonen and Mikko Heikkilä are seventh, eighth and ninth, ahead of Lauri Joona’s Škoda.

Neuville is just outside of the top 10, 0.3s behind Joona but close to three minutes behind his rally-leading team-mate.