Ott Tanak clinched his and Toyota’s first victory of the 2019 World Rally Championship season with a dominant Rally Sweden performance.
Tanak beat the Citroen of Esapekka Lappi by a mammoth 53.7 seconds, while Thierry Neuville rounded off the podium just a further three seconds behind.
Tanak didn’t have it all his own way however, as it was in fact an impressive Teemu Sunninen in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta who led the field by close of play on Friday, leading Tanak by two seconds heading into Saturday’s stages.
The Estonian soon got into his stride as he snatched the top spot away from Sunninen on the first run of Rammen. He then extended his advantage to north of 30 seconds following a mistake for the Finn which saw him plummet to eighth.
Tanak continued to edge away through the rest of Saturday and Sunday, including a rapid time in the Torsby power stage that secured him another five points to go with his seventh WRC victory.
There was early drama for Monte Carlo winner Sebastien Ogier, however, the championship leader going wide on stage six and getting stuck in a snow bank. He was forced to retire from the rest of Friday as a result, two points from the power stage being his only reward from the weekend.
Lappi eventually prevailed in what was an intense battle for the runners-up spot behind the Toyota, with as many as five drivers having a part to play.
Andreas Mikkelsen held second by nearly 17 seconds at one point following Sunninen’s drama, but was reeled in quickly by the charging Lappi and Neuville.
Lappi, despite a huge moment where he nearly rolled on Friday, first chased down Elfyn Evans and then Mikkelsen to take second by the end of Stage 16. Neuville was in close pursuit just a few seconds back however and duly passed his Hyundai team-mate for third on the very next stage.
The Belgian was unable to break Lappi’s hold on second however and was forced to settle for third, with Mikkelsen fourth and Evans coming home as the top M-Sport runner in fifth.
Kris Meeke banked more valuable points with a mature drive to sixth – the Irish racer struggling on the rutted gravel-like roads but still able to hold off Sebastien Loeb, who ultimately finished just over ten seconds behind after getting as close as half-a-second behind at the end of Saturday.
Pontus Tidemand managed to bring his Fiesta WRC home eighth, while WRC2 victor Ole-Christian Veiby and returning driver Janne Tuohino in his own Fiesta WRC rounded out the points finishers.
Ott Tanak heads to Mexico next time out as championship leader for the first time in his career on 47 points, with Neuville just seven points further back. Ogier has work to do on the Mexican gravel therefore, the Frenchman now 16 points behind Tanak following his Swedish disaster.