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Ice-cool Thierry Neuville kept calm in the heat of a furious fight to win Rally Sweden on Sunday afternoon and take the lead of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Belgian became only the third non-Nordic driver to win the calendar's solitary pure winter rally and end an agonising 12-month wait after crashing out of a comfortable lead last year. He overcame an electrical glitch with his Hyundai's paddle shift gearchange system, a lurid spin into a snow bank and extreme pressure from the chasing pack to win the four-day encounter on snow and ice-covered forest roads by 19.8sec. “An incredible result! We had a disappointing start to the season in Monte-Carlo, but we didn’t let that get us down," Neuville said.
"We kept focused and targeted a strong result here in Sweden. We knew the competition would be tough for the win but we came here with the objective to bounce back, and we did that perfectly. We didn’t expect to take the lead so early in the weekend, so we have had to be clever to defend the gap at times, and then increase it when we could.
"I felt we deserved the win last year, but perhaps even more so this weekend. I was never going to push in the Power Stage because the victory meant too much to risk, so to come away with two extra points is great. We’re now leading the championship, so our 2018 campaign is back on track.” He finally broke clear of his pursuers on Saturday afternoon and eased through Sunday's final three speed tests to head Ireland's Craig Breen, driving a Citroën C3, for whom second was a career-best result. Breen climbed to second on Saturday morning when Andreas Mikkelsen spun at exactly the same point as Neuville. He kept his composure to hold off the Norwegian, team-mate to the rally winner, by 8.5sec. Esapekka Lappi hounded Neuville early on until he plunged down the order after burying his Toyota Yaris in a snow bank. He fought back and gained two places in the final three stages to finish fourth, 17.5sec adrift of Mikkelsen. A final stage mistake from Hayden Paddon made life easier for Lappi. The Kiwi stalled his i20 a couple of kilometres from the finish and trailed the Finn by 8.6sec. After only a day's pre-event testing, Mads Østberg was sixth on his debut drive in a C3. The Norwegian ran as high as second but he slid down the order as unfamiliarity with the car and a lack of confidence in its set-up cost time.
Craig Breen

A brilliant drive from Irishman Craig Breen netted him second place for Citroen.

Jari-Matti Latvala, who delivered Toyota Gazoo Racing a fairytale win last season on only the Japanese manufacturer's second rally back at the top level after a 17-year absence, was seventh after being delayed by a troublesome front differential and adverse road conditions. Fellow Finn Teemu Suninen was seventh in a Ford Fiesta and the leading M-Sport World Rally Team driver after the squad, which headed the manufacturers' standings after last month's Rallye Monte-Carlo, endured a nightmare weekend. Ott Tänak and Monte-Carlo winner Sébastien Ogier dropped big chunks of time in Friday's opening leg as they ploughed a path through deep snow. They were unable to regain lost ground, finishing ninth and 11th. The championship journeys to Mexico next month for 2018's first taste of gravel roads. Rally Guanajuato Mexico is based in León from March 8-11.
  • Full Martin Holmes report and photos to follow.
Final Overall Classification  - Rally Sweden
1 T. Neuville N. Gilsoul Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2:52:13.1
2 C. Breen S. Martin Citroën C3 WRC +19.8
3 A. Mikkelsen A. Jæger Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +28.3
4 E. Lappi J. Ferm Toyota Yaris WRC +45.8
5 H. Paddon S. Marshall Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +54.4
6 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 WRC +1:15.3
7 J. M. Latvala M. Anttila Toyota Yaris WRC +2:04.9
8 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta WRC +2:52.2
9 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Toyota Yaris WRC +3:44.4
10 E. Evans D. Barritt Ford Fiesta WRC +5:27.4
2018 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings After round 2
1 T. Neuville 41
2 S. Ogier 30
3 J.M Latvala 23
4 E. Lappi 23
5 O. Tanak 21
6 A. Mikkelsen 21
7 C. Breen 20
8 K. Meeke 17
9 H. Paddon 10
10 E. Evans 9
2018 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings After round 2
1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 54
3 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 53
3 Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 46
4 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 43
All results remain subject to official FIA confirmation.
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