World champion Kalle Rovanperä edged an on-form Esapekka Lappi to the fastest Rally Sweden shakedown time by just one tenth of a second.
Rovanperä, who won the very first Umeå-based edition of Rally Sweden last year, set a benchmark time of 2m50.9 seconds on his third and final run that narrowly beat his fellow Finn’s effort.
Lappi looked immediately strong on shakedown though, setting the pace by over a second from Takamoto Katsuta after the first pass.
Benefiting from two test days and an appearance on the Kuopio Rally last weekend, Lappi belied his lack of Hyundai experience to set an incredible time on the second pass that was 2.5s quicker than anybody else could manage.
Lappi then lowered his time by three tenths on the final pass but was usurped by Rovanperä’s Toyota. But after a Monte Carlo Rally where Lappi didn’t feel his times reflected his driving, his Sweden weekend has got off to a positive start.
“Yes – this time, yeah!” he said when asked if his feeling matched the time.
“I was using the snowbanks a lot but that’s the nature of this rally. But they aren’t all flexible so you need to know where you can lean.”
Rovanperä may have ultimately been fastest, but he isn’t convinced he’ll be featuring at the top of the timesheets when the rally begins.
As road sweeper, he was fourth fastest after the first pass of shakedown.
“It was really, really slippy for us,” he said. “There was a small line in the middle of the road but the rear will never fit on the line on this kind of narrow road.
“It will be really tricky to open the road here.”
Katsuta – who, like Lappi, also took on Finland’s Kuopio Rally recently for extra seat time – was an impressive third fastest on his first weekend as a manufacturer-registered Toyota driver; stopping the clocks just 0.3s slower than his pace-setting team-mate.
Elfyn Evans ensured there were three Toyotas in the top four times with a late run. After his first three passes, Evans had been the slowest works Rally1 driver but found some 6.2s over his previous best run on his fourth and final attempt on the stage.
Craig Breen’s first run over shakedown was compromised by a lack of hybrid, but the Hyundai returnee responded with aplomb once the issue was fixed with the fifth fastest time – 0.3s down on Evans.
Gaps began to extend further down the leaderboard as team-mate Thierry Neuville was another 1.8s slower than Breen, 3.1s adrift of Rovanperä.
Neuville however isn’t feeling his best after flu forced him to miss the second of his two scheduled testing days.
“Not great to be honest, I’ve been sick all week,” he said. “Not feeling so good but we’re going to be able to manage.”
It wasn’t a brilliant shakedown for M-Sport Ford though as its two cars featured towards the bottom of the top 10. Ott Tänak set the seventh fastest time in his Puma Rally1, 0.4s adrift of Neuville’s best effort.
“Hopefully we can be a bit more competitive than in Monte,” commented the 2019 world champion.
Team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet set the eighth best time but that was still 1.8s down on Tänak’s pace. His aim for the weekend is measured though as he just wants to build experience on snow and ice and stay out of trouble.
Oliver Solberg set the shakedown pace in WRC2 but only by 0.3s ahead of WRC returnee Ole Christian Veiby – setting up what promises to be a close fight all weekend.
Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen was third fastest, 0.8s down on Solberg.
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