Toyota takes 1-2-3 on Sweden WRC opener

Rovanperä leads the way after first Umeå sprint stage as Hyundais struggle for traction


Kalle Rovanperä has taken an early lead on Rally Sweden, while fellow World Rally Championship part-timer Esapekka Lappi was surprisingly off the pace down in seventh.

Both the reigning world champion and Hyundai’s part-timer are taking on their first WRC event of the season in Sweden, so have ideal road position on paper to avoid sweeping loose snow away.

That advantage was fully leveraged by Rovanperä, who led a Toyota 1-2-3 on the Umeå Sprint opener on Thursday night by 1.4s from Takamoto Katsuta.

Rovanperä respected the challenge of the spectator stage: “This one is always tricky, it’s a really hard place because it’s so icy,” he said. “It’s never easy to judge the grip but it was OK.

“Tomorrow should be even more fun,” he concluded, somewhat ominously.

Evans was two seconds off the pace of his world champion team-mate and admitted he was sounding like a broken record: “Probably not quite brave enough,” he said. “I’ve used that line a few times already I guess! But all OK.”

Ott Tänak and Adrien Fourmaux tied for the fourth-fastest time; Fourmaux ran wide and bumped his Ford Puma off several snowbanks but was still only 2.1s off Rovanperä’s benchmark.


Tänak was best of Hyundais, 2.1s off pace

As first car on the road, Thierry Neuville was expecting to struggle on the first leg of the rally. That fear became something of a reality on the first stage, ending 2.7s off the pace and expressing concern about the amount of traction his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 was capable of generating.

“I don’t get the power on the ground, to be honest,” Neuville said. “We have to work a bit on the car to get more traction tomorrow.”

His team-mate Lappi was expected to be the lead Hyundai, given his optimal road position. So there was surprise when he only clocked the seventh-fastest time – primarily from the man himself.

“Yep, me too,” Lappi responded when asked if he was surprised by his time loss. “I don’t know. I guess it shows we don’t have enough grip.”

Grégoire Munster was eighth-fastest in the second M-Sport Puma. With no experience on snow in Rally1 machinery, his only goal this weekend is to finish.

“Seeing the times, it’s not that great but it’s normal,” said Munster. “We have four passes in this stage so I’ll make the Barn Arena better for the spectators.”

Local favorite Oliver Solberg lived up to expectations by smashing the WRC2 field on the Umeå Sprint, winning the short 3.2-mile spectator stage by three seconds.


Solberg's WRC2-leading time was only 0.4s slower than eighth-placed Munster

Next-best was reigning WRC3 champion Roope Korhonen, who is making only his third career WRC2 start this week. His Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 was 0.4s faster than Nikolay Gryazin’s Citroën C3.

Some of the drivers behind the wheel of Toyota’s army of customer cars were disappointed with their efforts.

Sami Pajari, who scored a podium on his WRC2 debut in Sweden last year, was tied for fourth-fastest time with Škoda Fabia RS driver Fabrizio Zaldivar and unhappy with his own driving.

“It was somehow really slippy on entries of the corners,” said Pajari, “so I lost a couple of corners basically, so I’m not so happy.”

In fifth place, Georg Linnamäe felt he wasn’t getting full power delivery from his own Yaris Rally2: “We lost some power for some reason,” said Linnamäe at stage end, making his first WRC2 appearance after several years with a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.

“So hopefully we can fix it somehow ourselves. I don’t understand. At the start basically, on the first straight, I felt like pop-off was opening a lot.”

Emil Lindholm, the 2022 WRC2 champion, started his 2024 campaign with a seventh-fastest time, expressing awe at Solberg’s pace-setting efforts and admitting he’d not pushed hard enough.

“It’s a big gap to Oliver, that’s for sure,” Lindholm said. “He’s had a lot of fun there, that I can see. The grip is incredibly high, I wasn’t expecting anything like that.”

Mikko Heikkilä, winner of the Arctic Lapland Rally earlier this month that many drivers had used as a warm-up event for Rally Sweden, was eighth fastest in WRC2. Behind him in the overall standings was the ninth and last Rally1 machine of Lorenzo Bertelli, who is renting a factory GR Yaris Rally1 this week. He was 17th fastest on the opening spectator stage.

DirtFish Live Center begins at 8:45am local time (7:45am GMT, 2:45am ET, 11:45pm [Thu] PT) on Friday, which begins with the #42 Brattby stage that’s been renamed in Craig Breen’s honor.