Jari-Matti Latvala has taken the lead at Rally Sweden after Thierry Neuville suffered broken steering on the final spectator stage of the day.
For the second event in a row what looked like minor contact has caused major damage to the Hyundai and seen the Belgian plummet down the leaderboard from a 43.3sec lead to a 10-minute penalty for failing to complete the stage at the Karlstad trotting track.
“There are really no words that convey how I feel right now,” said Neuville after clipping a concrete block.
“We had spent all Saturday with a deliberate strategy to take things steady and to stay in control of the rally. We didn’t want a repeat of Monte, but that’s exactly what we got. I am so disappointed for the team, for Nicolas (Gilsoul), and myself but we have to put it quickly behind us.
“We know we have the pace to win rallies with the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. We have the confidence and I am sure the results will come. Tomorrow, we come back under Rally 2 and we’ll go for Power Stage points. We will then fight back again in Mexico.”
Latvala is far from being in the clear with the Toyota driver just 3.8sec ahead of a rapidly closing Ott Tanak while the other Ford of World champion Sebastien Ogier is only 12.8sec further back in third.
A thin layer of overnight snow ensured drivers struggled for grip and Latvala couldn’t match the previous day’s pace. He regretted his decision to carry two spare wheels in the morning as Tanak closed in with an impressive hat-trick of stage wins in his Ford Fiesta.
“It’s been another good day for us, although not without some small issues: but these were actually nothing to do with the car,” said Latvala.
“There was quite a lot of loose snow and it was hard to keep control in places, especially on the downhill sections. At one point, I even thought I had a puncture.
“We decided to take just one spare tyre in the car for the afternoon to help us in this big fight. But we also had some problems with tyre wear, as well as losing time behind another car.
“Tomorrow will be a big day so we have to try our best. The car and the team is getting better all the time, so I feel good.”
Freed from opening the roads in the worst of the conditions, Ogier quickly demoted Kris Meeke from fourth. But the Frenchman admitted he couldn’t find the speed he hoped for.
Meeke was a comfortable fifth in his Citroen C3 before diving off the road and down a small bank in the penultimate test. Fans lifted his car back onto the track but more than eight minutes passed before he continued and he plunged off the leaderboard.
His mistake promoted Dani Sordo into fourth, the Spaniard 25.0sec clear of Craig Breen.
Elfyn Evans was sixth ahead of Hayden Paddon who drove all morning with no power steering in his i20 Coupe and lost almost four minutes.
“Rallying on these stages with no power steering is a just incredibly tough,” said Paddon.
“It felt like an extended gym session, or wrestling a lion – and coming off second best!
“With power steering back in the afternoon, it was like having a feather at the fingertips. We hadn’t done the two stages at speed so we were playing catch-up to find a rhythm.
“We are overdue a change of fortune, but I’m determined to end this rally on a high.”
Stéphane Lefebvre, WRC 2 leader Pontus Tidemand and Teemu Suninen completed the leaderboard, while Neuville will restart tomorrow in 13th with a 10-minute penalty.
The day’s action also included plenty of fast action along with the famous ‘Colins Crest’ where Mads Ostberg put in a leap of 44-metres, the longest in the entire championship.
The final leg is the shortest with just three stages covering 58.81km. Two passes through Likenäs precede the live TV Power Stage at Torsby, which offers bonus points to the fastest five drivers.
VIDEO: Morning Stages
VIDEO: Afternoon Stages
POSITIONS: Rally Sweden – Leg 3