Neuville, Mikkelsen and Ogier in three-way fight to the Swedish finish

Hyundai i20 WRC driver Thierry Neuville catapulted himself into the lead of Rally Sweden this evening and heads a thrilling three-way battle for victory in the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The young Belgian is a mere 1.5 seconds ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen, who lost his lead on the final stage, while Volkswagen team-mate Sébastien Ogier – who was expected to mount a big come-back today – is third, a further 8.1 seconds adrift.Today’s route was more familiar to the crews and took them over two identical loops of four stages split by a mid-day service in Hagfors. Neuville, second last night, has been pushing hard all day, despite being handicapped by the weight disadvantage of running with two spare wheels when his rivals only had one. However, it was this that ultimately powered him into the lead, as he was able to use fresh rubber in the final stage to claim his second fastest stage time and the overall advantage. Mikkelsen has been impressive too, but the Norwegian’s two mistakes during the day saw his lead increase and decrease in equal measures. An encounter with a ditch as well as a spin enabled Ogier to close the gap but the reigning World Champion struggled with the road conditions at the front of the field this afternoon and was unable to mount a serious assault on the lead. The three Hyundai and Volkswagen drivers are however split by just 9.6 seconds this evening and have set the scene for a great battle over Sunday’s closing three stages and 46.74 competitive kilometresBehind the leading trio, Mads Østberg suffered early disappointment when he ran wide, hit a bank and sustained a puncture in the opening stage, dropping himself behind Ogier into fourth position and out of the intense fight for the podium positions. He is 35.8 seconds ahead of fifth placed Ott Tanak and Hayden Paddon has held off Martin Prokop to maintain sixth. Prokop had a bad landing on the nose of the car this afternoon but has otherwise escaped unscathed. Elfyn Evans has had another improving day and the Welshman has moved from 10th last night to eighth, also benefiting with a more advantageous road position. Kris Meeke has similarly had a better day and also set his first-ever fastest stage time on snow. He is ninth but ready to overhaul the four-tenths of a second deficit to Evans. Yuriy Protasov rounds off the top 10, the Ukrainian having been off the road earlier in the day. Rally Sweden – Unofficial Results after Section 6

1. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul Hyundai i20 WRC 2hr 29min 54.5sec

2. Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Floene Volkswagen Polo R WRC 2hr 29min 56.0sec

3. Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia Volkswagen Polo R WRC 2hr 30min 04.1sec

4. Mads Østberg/Jonas Andersson DS 3 WRC 2hr 30min 47.9sec

5. Ott Tanak/Raigo Molder Ford Fiesta RS WRC 2hr 31min 23.7sec

6. Hayden Paddon/John Kennard Hyundai i20 WRC 2hr 32min 30.2sec

7. Martin Prokop/Jan Tomanek Ford Fiesta RS WRC 2hr 32min 57.6sec

8. Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt Ford Fiesta RS WRC 2hr 33min 16.6sec

9. Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle DS 3 WRC 2hr 33min 17.0sec

10. Yuriy Protasov/Pavlo Cherepin Ford Fiesta RS WRC 2hr 34min 14.1sec

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