If we’re honest, we’re only just catching our breath back now. This year’s Rally Sweden had it all – crashes, lead changes, mechanical failures and even a bout of controversy.
After a rally as pulsating as that, naturally there are going to be winners and losers. It was the task of DirtFish writers Rob Hansford and Luke Barry to determine and deliver them for you to debate in the comments section below.
Here’s what they came up with:
M-Sport & Tänak
Broadly against expectation, it’s only taken Ott Tänak two rallies to return M-Sport Ford to the winners’ circle once more, delivering just the second win for the Puma Rally1 to vault to the top of the championship for the first time since he became world champion in 2019.
But the rally win isn’t the only positive from this weekend. Tänak was never fully comfortable with the car yet he was still able to win, so imagine what he is capable of once the Puma becomes more to his liking?
Both parties desperately wanted this reunion to work. If there were any doubts that it wouldn’t, they’ll quickly be evaporating now.
How can he not be a winner? This was the comeback drives of all comeback drives.
He might not have won, but Breen put up a tremendous fight all rally long and second position was completely deserved, even if it meant inadvertently spoiling Hyundai’s plan to try and switch Breen and Neuville around.
Breen needed a performance like this after such a torrid time last year, and it proved to the world that he’d never lost his talent or his speed.
His mojo is definitely back. Now he just needs to keep it there.
Hyundai might have caused a stir on Sunday afternoon when it tried (and failed) to implement team orders to ensure Neuville finished second, but putting that to one side, Sweden was a strong event for the team.
Its result on Monte Carlo was somewhat underwhelming, but there was no denying its pace on the snow.
Neuville might have been slightly off the pace at the start of the rally, having missed pre-event testing due to illness, but Breen and Esapekka Lappi completely made up for that. And so did Neuville once he got in the groove.
For much of Saturday, Hyundai was occupying three of the first four positions on the road, and it would have likely stayed that way had Lappi not had a delaminating tire that sent him into a snowbank.
But despite Lappi dropping down the order, Hyundai still walked away from Sweden with more points than Toyota, and that definitely has to be considered a win.
After some super-strong stage times in Monte Carlo, Oliver Solberg teed himself up as the hot favorite for success in Sweden where his WRC2 campaign began.
And he absolutely delivered on the billing, finding the perfect balance between pushing when required but backing off and calculating the risks to secure his first ever category win in WRC2 (but second in the Rally2 category after a WRC3 win on Estonia 2020).
A powerstage win was the cherry on top of the cake, giving Solberg the perfect score of 28 to kickstart his season.
It had been a while since Solberg had experienced that winning feeling. Now he’s rediscovered it and got the added bonus of being considered a winner in our ranking too.
Doing his best to bat away questions about his new-found progress with the GR Yaris Rally1 in Monte Carlo, what Evans didn’t need in Sweden was another weekend where he struggled to find that famed feeling behind the wheel.
But unfortunately that’s exactly what he got.
To be fair to him he wasn’t the only Toyota driver to struggle (spoiler alert: see below) but there’s a narrative beginning to build around Evans and his struggles and this performance does nothing to halt it.
To rub salt into the wounds, fourth on the powerstage was enough to lift him ahead of team-mate Sébastien Ogier in the championship and thus have a slightly worse road position for México.
“We’re here at the end, which is better than what happened last year.”
Kalle Rovanperä was always going to struggle in Sweden due to his road position, and to be fair to him he got the best result he could in the circumstances.
But that fourth spot was about as good as it got for Toyota.
Evans was completely at sea in his Yaris Rally1, finishing over a minute behind his team-mate, while Katsuta failed to finish the rally at all.
The result was far from ideal, and means that not only is a Toyota driver no longer leading the drivers’ championship, but it’s also dropped 10 points to Hyundai in the manufacturers’ race.
It would be silly to think that Toyota has all of a sudden lost its pace. It hasn’t and it will be a force to be reckoned with in México. But there are definitely questions to be answered leaving Sweden.
Lappi was doing so well. He was looking like he’d be ready to strike for rally victory if either Tänak or Breen or both messed up, but then came SS13. A delaminated tire sent him into a snowbank, costing him over seven minutes.
It was disastrous for Lappi and stopped him from no doubt securing his first WRC podium of the year.
And what will hurt more is the fact that even after the crash, he was still on the pace. He knows that a top three result would have been an almost certainty.
He saved some face winning the powerstage, his first stage win for Hyundai, but all-in-all that matters very little.
It’s the second event in a row when he’s walking away disappointed. The difference this time is that the performance was there to end Sweden with a strong result.
This one sparked a bit of an internal debate on the DirtFish newsdesk, but how can’t Thierry Neuville be considered a loser when he squandered a golden opportunity to snare three extra championship points.
New Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul did his best to help Neuville, and Breen duly obliged. But Neuville made a hash of the powerstage and in the end the late check-in and subsequent 10s time penalty for Breen proved to be for nothing.
Other than that, Neuville actually had a really good rally. Hamstrung with understeer on Friday (mostly caused by missing aero parts on his front bumper), he came alive on Saturday and firmly shaded the reigning world champion on a surface he excels on.
But third could have been second had the powerstage been nailed. Let’s just hope for Neuville’s sake those lost points don’t come back to haunt him.