Ford World Rally Team drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila led Rally Sweden after a demanding opening day’s competition on snow and ice-covered roads. The Finns lead this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship by 16.8sec in a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car, with team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson in third.

The team won four of the 10 speed tests, Latvala and Solberg taking two victories each. Ford has won the last five fixtures at the championship’s only true winter encounter, and the Fiesta RS WRC, which claimed a clean sweep of the podium in Sweden last year, holds five of the top six places.

The rally began last night with a spectacular curtain-raising special stage around the trotting track in the rally base of Karlstad. After a 05.00 restart this morning, competitors journeyed north-west of the city to tackle the bulk of the day’s action over the border in Norway. The final two tests, including a repeat of the Karlstad stage, were back in Sweden, generating 144.66km of competition.

Temperatures hovered around -10ºC, enough to guarantee full winter conditions, but not cold enough to ensure the roads were pure ice. That encouraged both Latvala, fastest in the WRC’s first ever qualifying session yesterday, and Solberg to select start positions well down the order, with the aim of obtaining better conditions after the loose snow had been swept away.

The decision paid off immediately as Latvala was equal fastest on this morning’s opening stage, spanning both Sweden and Norway. He took the lead on the next test and reached the brief 15-minute service in Kongsvinger just 2.9sec from the front. The 26-year-old retook top spot this afternoon and managed the stud retention in his Michelin tyres well to widen his advantage.

“My start position strategy paid off and it was an excellent day,” he said. “I made a few small mistakes this morning which cost me the lead and the car oversteered a little, but that improved as the day continued. I knew I was losing time to Petter in the penultimate stage because my studs were more worn, but I remained calm and it turned out that other drivers were losing even more.

“Today was the hardest for the tyres but the grip remained good this afternoon. I must keep pushing tomorrow and it’s important to stay focused. Keeping clear of the snow banks will be key because it’s all too easy to be dragged into the soft snow and become stuck,” added Latvala.

Today’s opening 27.07km Mitandersfors test passed a farm and hotel owned by the Solberg family, and the 37-year-old Norwegian delighted his home fans with a string of consistently fast times. He held second, before losing 10 seconds with a spin and sliding to fifth.

However, he too managed his tyres superbly. After fitting his spare wheels later than his rivals this afternoon, the studs were in perfect condition for Solberg to win the penultimate stage by more than seven seconds and climb to third. He is 18.6sec behind his Ford colleague.

“It was a fantastic afternoon,” said Solberg. “I chose to switch tyres later than everyone else. Although I lost time to everyone on the short stage after they made their changes, I gained more time on new tyres over the next two longer tests. I also adjusted the front ride height and softened the dampers before the last long stage and it worked perfectly. I want to keep the car exactly as it is now.

“I took a safe option with my choice of start position but it was the right decision. It’s only my second rally in the Fiesta and both the team and I are building and learning together. I didn’t think I would adapt to the car quite so quickly in the snow and ice. It was great to see so many people watching alongside the family farm and hotel. It was quite special competing in my home country, in front of my fellow countrymen.”

Ford World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson reflected on a hugely satisfying opening leg. “Our planning to develop a start order strategy worked perfectly and the both of pace drivers was evident throughout the day. Petter put his experience to good use by managing his tyres skilfully, and the result was a stunning stage win and a place on the podium tonight. Jari-Matti was consistently fast. We will make a small change to the suspension set-up on his car for tomorrow,” he said.

News from other Ford teams

Mads Østberg / Jonas Andersson lie fourth in a privately-entered Fiesta RS WRC, despite the Norwegian feeling frustrated with his pace on occasions. M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov / Denis Giraudet are fifth, the Russian driver finding the roads more slippery than he expected this morning. Rounding off the top six is Henning Solberg / Ilka Minor, the Go Fast Energy World Rally Team pair steadily climbing the order as the day progressed. Also in the top 10 are Czech Ford National Team duo Martin Prokop / Zdenek Hrûza and Norway’s Eyvind Brynildsen / Cato Menkerud, holding ninth and 10th respectively. M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tänak / Kuldar Sikk dropped more than 11 minutes after going off the road on today’s opening stage, while Jari Ketomaa / Mika Stenberg retired their Fiesta RS WRC after crashing.

Tomorrow’s Route

The second leg is based entirely in Sweden and the stages rarely stray far from the Hagfors service park. After leaving Karlstad at 06.00, drivers tackle two identical loops of four tests covering 117.76km, before returning to the city for the final overnight halt at 20.26.

Leaderboard after Day 1

1. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 23min 50.8sec

2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Citroen DS3 1hr 24min 07.6sec

3. P Solberg/C Patterson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 24min 09.4sec

4. M Østberg/J Andersson NOR Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 24min 23.1sec

5. E Novikov/D Giraudet RUS Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 25min 02.9sec

6. H Solberg/I Minor NOR Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 25min 39.3sec

7. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen DS3 1hr 25min 59.7sec

8. P Sandell/S Parmander SWE Mini John Cooper 1hr 26min 09.6sec

9. M Prokop/Z Hrûza CZE Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 26min 17.7sec

10 E Brynildsen/C Menkerud NOR Ford Fiesta RS 1hr 26min 50.6sec

Stage Times

Stage 1: 1. Sordo 1min 34.2sec; 2. Østberg + 0.3; 3. Tänak + 0.6; 4= P Solberg, Loeb + 1.2; 6. Hirvonen + 1.5; 7. Latvala + 2.2.

Stage 2: 1. Latvala, Østberg 14min 13.0sec; 3. Hirvonen + 0.8; 4. Loeb + 3.6; 5. P Solberg + 4.5; 6. Novikov + 12.2.

Overall: 1. Østberg 15min 47.5sec; 2. Latvala + 1.9; 3. Hirvonen + 2.0; 4. P Solberg + 5.4; 5. Sordo + 12.4; 6. Loeb + 14.5.

Stage 3: 1. Loeb 10min 45.8sec; 2. Latvala + 0.2; 3. P Solberg + 0.7; 4. Hirvonen + 4.2; 5. Sordo + 8.8; 6. Østberg + 9.2.

Overall: 1. Latvala 26min 35.4sec; 2. P Solberg + 4.0; 3. Hirvonen + 4.1; 4. Østberg + 7.1; 5. Loeb + 12.4; 6. Sordo + 19.1.

Stage 4: 1. Hirvonen 5min 41.0sec; 2. Loeb + 1.9; 3. Neuville + 2.3; 4. Sordo + 3.1; 5. Latvala + 3.5; 6. Østberg + 5.4; 12. P Solberg + 11.5.

Overall: 1. Latvala 32min 19.9sec; 2. Hirvonen + 0.6; 3. Østberg + 9.0; 4. Loeb + 10.8; 5. P Solberg + 12.0; 6. Sordo + 18.7.

Stage 5: 1. Hirvonen 11min 57.2sec; 2. Østberg + 1.9; 3. Loeb + 2.5; 4. P Solberg + 2.2; 5. Latvala + 3.5; 6. Sordo + 3.7.

Overall: 1. Hirvonen 44min 17.7sec; 2. Latvala + 2.9; 3. Østberg + 10.3; 4. Loeb + 12.7; 5. P Solberg + 14.6; 6. Sordo + 21.8.

Stage 6: 1. Loeb 10min 30.1sec; 2. Latvala + 3.3; 3. Hirvonen + 5.8; 4. Novikov + 5.9; 5. P Solberg + 7.2; 6. Østberg + 9.0.

Overall: 1. Hirvonen 54min 53.6sec; 2. Latvala + 0.4; 3. Loeb + 6.9; 4. Østberg + 13.5; 5. P Solberg + 16.2; 6. Sordo + 25.6.

Stage 7: 1. Hirvonen 5min 34.9sec; 2. Latvala + 0.7; 3. Novikov + 3.8; 4. Østberg + 5.6; 5. Brynildsen + 7.6; 6. Sordo + 8.3; 8. P Solberg + 9.0.

Overall: 1. Hirvonen 1hr 00min 28.5sec; 2. Latvala + 1.1; 3. Østberg + 19.1; 4. P Solberg + 25.2; 5. Sordo + 33.9; 6. Novikov + 34.4.

Stage 8: 1. Latvala 11min 48.3sec; 2. P Solberg + 3.3; 3. Loeb + 3.6; 4. Hirvonen + 3.7; 5. Novikov + 8.4; 6. Østberg + 8.5.

Overall: 1. Latvala 1hr 12min 17.9sec; 2. Hirvonen + 2.6; 3. Østberg + 26.5; 4. P Solberg + 27.4; 5. Novikov + 41.4; 6. H Solberg + 1:40.0.

Stage 9: 1. P Solberg 9min 51.5sec; 2. Latvala + 7.4; 3. Loeb + 10.5; 4. Østberg + 12.5; 5. H Solberg + 14.2; 6. Ogier + 17.6.

Overall: 1. Latvala 1hr 22min 16.8sec; 2. Hirvonen + 17.2; 3. P Solberg + 20.0; 4. Østberg + 31.6; 5. Novikov + 1:11.5; 6. H Solberg + 1:46.8.

Stage 10: 1. P Solberg 1min 32.6sec; 2. Loeb + 0.6; 3. Hirvonen + 1.0; 4. Latvala + 1.4; 5. Tänak + 1.8; 6. Novikov + 2.0.

Overall: 1. Latvala 1hr 23min 50.8sec; 2. Hirvonen + 16.8; 3. P Solberg + 18.6; 4. Østberg + 32.3; 5. Novikov + 1:12.1; 6. H Solberg + 1:48.5.