PARIS: Triple world champion Sebastien Ogier survived two scares to open a 26.9-sec gap after the first day of the Rally of Sweden on Friday (Saturday in Manila) as rivals struggled in the snow and mud.
French driver Ogier, who won the season opener in Monte Carlo last month, mastered the tricky conditions as New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon, in a Hyundai i20, finished the day in second spot with Norway’s Ford Focus driver Mads Ostberg 33.7sec off the pace in third.
The classic winter rally, traditionally fought out over kilometers of deep-lying snow banks, has endured a troubled build-up.
Lack of snow and rising temperatures turned parts of the course into muddy quagmires with eight of the 21 planned stages cut from the schedule as organizers feared that studded snow tyres would severely damage the country’s roads.
Ogier lost some time in the afternoon following an overshoot while he had been fortunate to escape a more serious incident in the morning when he hit a tree and bent a steering arm.
“There was a big, big water splash which I didn’t have in my pace notes,” said Ogier who was forced into carrying out roadside repairs.
“The organizers warned us about a bump but I couldn’t turn after it and went into the trees. I got a bit lucky. I had to push hard in the snow because I knew I would lose time.”
Northern Ireland’s Citroen driver Kris Meeke, the only competitor to break the VW stranglehold in 2015, had been running second at one stage.
But he was forced out of contention when his car hit a stone.