After pushing hard all the way on day three of Rally Sweden, Sébastien Loeb finished the event as runner-up, 41.8s behind the winner. In scoring two points in the Manufacturers’ World Championship, Mikko Hirvonen ensured Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT stayed top of the overall standings.
After the first two legs were conventionally configured, the final day of Rally Sweden had a more unusual set-up. The morning’s action featured five stages, totalling no fewer than 75 kilometres, which were completed without any service period. After a brief stop in the small town of Torsby, the crews rounded off the day with the 19.26km-long Power Stage.
Despite knowing deep down that he could not close the gap to Sébastien Ogier in normal racing conditions, Sébastien Loeb went on the attack in the first few stages. He also took one spare tyre with him, unlike most of the other competitors, who took two.
On Mitandersfors (SS17), a stage that begins in Sweden and ends in Norway, he made up 3.3s on the leader. Seb then repeated the feat on Finnskogen 1 and Kirkener 1 (SS18 and SS19), closing to within 20.7s of the pacesetter: “I’m pushing as hard as I can! But on a stage like Finnskogen, you can’t really make up much time. I’m keeping up the pressure on Seb [Ogier] by driving like this, but you have to say that he is having a perfect race.”
The fight effectively ended on SS21, when ‘Loebinen’ had a major scare: “I had decided to push a bit less, but it was at that point that I hit a snow bank. I really eased off after that…”
Seb had no doubt thought about Dani Sordo, who was caught out like many before him by the deep snow-covered verges that run alongside the Scandinavian roads. “I was fairly pleased with how I had started the day,” reported the Spaniard. “We had really improved the set-up of the car again and I felt comfortable. I had taken eighth place from Martin Prokop and everything was going well. But on SS20, I hit a bank of snow, which was hiding a large rock. We went off pretty hard and the car was too badly damaged for us to be able to continue.”
Back in Sweden, the rally stopped off in Torsby for a fifteen-minute remote service. Equipped with new Michelin X-Ice North tyres, the competitors headed off on the final stage. Whilst Seb made sure of second place, Mikko pushed hard to try and pick up some bonus points. Unfortunately, he fell slightly short, taking the fourth fastest time…
“We knew it would be difficult, but we had to give it everything,” concluded Mikko. “We nonetheless scored two extra points for Citroën in the Manufacturers’ World Championship. There’s not much more I can say about this rally. I am already focussed on Mexico.”
“I think I lost the rally on Thursday morning during qualifying,” analysed Sébastien Loeb. “We had decided to change the set-up, but it didn’t work out and the gap grew throughout day one. From then onwards, we matched Sébastien Ogier, but it was too late. Congratulations to him and his team for this first win, they produced a flawless performance this weekend.”
“I would also like to congratulate the winners of the rally, who produced a perfect performance. It gives us an idea of how tough this season, which has only just started, is going to be. Our performance levels were in line with our objectives, but we’ll now need to complete error-free rallies if we are going to win races”, concluded Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal “The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team is still leading the Manufacturers’ World Championship and we’re ready to defend this position.”