KARLSTAD, Sweden - Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team’s Mads Østberg claimed his third successive podium finish in Rally Sweden at the weekend.
The second round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) also proved fruitful for Qatar World Rally Team’s Thierry Neuville and Juho Hänninen who secured fifth and sixth places respectively. Østberg’s team-mate, Evgeny Novikov, recovered from a roll to finish in ninth.
Seven M-Sport-built Fiesta rally cars scored points on the event. Not only did Østberg claim a podium in the WRC, but Yazeed Al-Rajhi piloted his Fiesta RRC to victory – and tenth place overall – in the WRC-2 series.
Looking to battle for victory, Østberg’s campaign on the snow-covered stages got off to a difficult start. With his Fiesta RS WRC suffering a water leak on Friday’s first stage, the Norwegian incurred a 20-second penalty for a late check-in. However, by the end of the second day he had overcome that setback and moved to third place overall.
Embarking on a nail-biting battle with last year’s victor, Jari-Matti Latvala, for third position on the final day, Østberg had the edge. Continuing to control his pace perfectly, the 25-year-old claimed a string of competitive times to confirm what has become a regular podium slot on the wintry stages.
Impressing on what was only his second venture to Rally Sweden, Neuville displayed real potential on his least preferred surface. Using the event to perfect a new pace note system, the Belgian kept his Fiesta RS WRC clear of trouble while showcasing flashes of speed. Securing a joint stage victory on Saturday evening’s Super Special in Karlstad, the youngster also claimed the laurels in the coveted Colin’s Crest Award – launching his Fiesta some 35 metres, much to the admiration of hundreds of fans lining the stage.
The Belgian continued his impressive drive over the final day. Keeping clear of the unforgiving snow banks, Neuville piloted his Fiesta to fifth place overall and his career best result from a winter rally.
Having been tied in a close battle with Neuville for much of the event, Hänninen kept a consistent pace until he became lodged in a snow bank on Saturday’s final stage and was forced to forfeit his position to his young team-mate. But the Finn kept his composure to secure sixth place at the end of the event.
Also proving his capabilities as a world class competitor, Novikov impressed on his second assault at the snow-covered classic. Despite using the event to build his knowledge and experience of the specialist stages, the Russian was lying in a creditable fifth position and was rarely less than a few seconds shy of the fastest stage times.
But disaster was to strike on the second pass of the Kirkenær Special Stage Carrying too much speed into a low-gear corner, the Muscovite rolled his Fiesta RS WRC costing him valuable minutes and relegating him to ninth place overall. Yet despite shattering the windscreen and causing some minor damage to the panels, the Fiesta proved a reliable contender and Novikov went on to post the fourth fastest time over the following test.
Finally, standing in for an unwell Nasser Al-Attiyah, Matthew Wilson was left to plough the snow at the head of the field. Following a roll during Saturday’s competitive action, the Briton was subjected to making tracks for the following pack and unable to set competitive times. Making it to the end of the event, Wilson secured 27th place overall.
“We’ve seen some fantastic performances from all our Fiesta drivers today and it’s a nice sight when you look at the times to see seven of our cars occupying the top ten,” said team principal, Malcolm Wilson.