Teemu Suninen led an FIA World Rally Championship round for the first time when he topped the leaderboard at Rally Sweden on Friday night.
The Finn became the fourth leader of an intensely difficult leg, holding onto a slender 2.0sec advantage after a dramatic finale as darkness descended over frozen forest roads near the rally's Torsby hub.
The 25-year-old negotiated the final 8.93km speed test with his Ford Fiesta's front light pod flapping across the bonnet and obscuring his vision. With reduced lighting, Suninen swiped several snowbanks but kept cool as Ott Tänak ate into a 13.0sec deficit.
“To be leading my first rally is an amazing feeling. We didn’t make any big mistakes and had really good pace all day so we can be happy with that. It was just a shame that we made a small mistake with the lights on the last stage [SS8] – otherwise our lead could have been 10 seconds more than it is now!" Suninen said.
“The car feels really good and I have really enjoyed the driving. We had a really good test in the lead-up to this event and the whole team was pushing the car to be better.
“Of course everyone’s target is to be the fastest, but we need to remember that there are still two days to go with some very difficult conditions. We need to keep going and concentrate on the driving. For sure Ott will be fast tomorrow, but we are in front of him and we will try our best.”
Estonian Tänak, who led before slipping back, recovered to second when Toyota Yaris team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala buried his car in a snowbank.
It took the Finn almost 25 minutes to dig it out and his hopes of victory at a record-breaking 197th WRC start were over. Latvala, who also topped the standings earlier, had begun the final test only 5.0sec behind Suninen.
Perfect snow and ice-covered roads this morning gave way to slush and gravel when the speed tests, most of which were held across the Norwegian border, were repeated this afternoon. The tricky tracks took their toll on several frontrunners.
Kris Meeke is 8th for Toyota after the first day in Sweden.
Opening round winner Sébastien Ogier retired his Citroën C3 after spinning into the snow and getting stuck, while Thierry Neuville ended seventh after twice spinning his Hyundai i20 and damaging the car's aerodynamics.
Norway's Andreas Mikkelsen delighted his fans by finishing third, 17.8sec off the lead in an i20. He had almost 11sec in hand over Elfyn Evans, who won two afternoon stages in a Fiesta to offset time lost by a spin.
Esapekka Lappi was fifth, the C3 pilot fortunate to emerge from a high-speed spin without rolling, with Sébastien Loeb climbing to sixth after slowly gaining in confidence.
It was a torrid day for Marcus Grönholm, making a guest appearance nine years after his last WRC outing. The five-time Sweden winner survived two spins before plunging his Yaris into a snowbank and retiring.
Saturday's leg features classic roads near Hagfors, including a double pass over the famous Colin's Crest. Two identical loops of three tests are followed by a repeat of Thursday's show stage in Karlstad and a sprint next to Torsby's service park. The eight tests cover 126.18km.
Classification after Day One
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