Rovanperä, who also posted the fastest time in shakedown, outpaced M-Sport Ford Puma rival Ott Tänak by 1.6sec in his Toyota GR Yaris, mastering the twists and turns of the curtain-raising Umeå Sprint on the outskirts of the host city.

The Finn is bidding for back-to-back Rally Sweden victories this week and will open the road on Friday. 

While that’s often seen as a disadvantage on winter rallies, this time Rovanperä’s early starting position worked to his favour, as the series of tight junctions were less rutted than they were for later runners.

“The conditions in this one were quite okay,” he admitted. “Some sections in the forest were a bit slippery with some loose snow, but all quite good. I just didn’t feel like I drove so well – I tried to be clean and tidy but it felt like I was not fast enough.”

Third place went to Rovanperä’s team-mate Elfyn Evans, who ended 3.1sec off the pace. The Welshman will begin Friday’s opening leg just eight-tenths of a second clear of Hyundai newbie Esapekka Lappi, with an ill Thierry Neuville – also driving an i20 N – another 1.1sec behind in fifth overall.

Takamoto Katsuta’s cautious approach earned the Yaris hotshot sixth overall ahead of Craig Breen and Pierre-Louis Loubet, while WRC2 hopefuls Jari Huttunen and Ole Christian Veiby round off the overnight top 10.

Friday’s leg journeys north for two loops of three speed tests, split by a 30-minute service in the city. First up is Brattby (10.76km). It is followed by Sarsjöliden (14.23km) and a brand-new stage at Botsmark (25.81km), the second pass of which will be driven in darkness. Another blast through Umeå Sprint (5.16km) brings the day to a halt after seven stages totalling 106.76km.

WRC Rally Sweden – Top 10 classification after SS1

Pos   Driver   Time  Gap 
Kalle Rovanpera 3m23.3s
Ott Tanak 3m24.9s 1.6s
Elfyn Evans 3m26.4s 3.1s
Esapekka Lappi 3m27.2s 3.9s
Thierry Neuville 3m28.3s 5.0s
Takamoto Katsuta 3m28.9s 5.6s
Craig Breen 3m30.0s 6.7s
Pierre-Louis Loubet 3m34.1s 10.8s
Jari Huttunen 3m34.7s 11.4s
10  Ole Christian Veiby 3m35.6s 12.3s

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