Ostberg tops Rally Sweden shakedown on WRC comeback

Mads Ostberg made the perfect return to the WRC with the fastest time on Wednesday’s Rally Sweden shakedown – but the Norwegian remains wary of any winning predictions.

Ostberg tops Rally Sweden shakedown on WRC comeback

Ostberg missed last month’s season opener in Monte Carlo, spending the time sorting out his own team for the 2017 series.

He and Martin Prokop had originally planned to run Volkswagen Polo R WRCs, with Sebastien Ogier as a teammate, but when that fell through, the decision was taken to return to a privately run Ford Fiesta WRC.

Despite only testing the car for the first time last weekend, Ostberg was quickest at the 4.49-mile shakedown stage, edging Citroen C3 WRC debutant Craig Breen by a tenth of a second.

“After only two days in the car, I’m very, very happy,” Ostberg told Motorsport.com's sister title Autosport.

“I’m not sure how representative this stage will be – Sebastien [Ogier] and Ott [Tanak] were not pushing so hard – but still you have to drive fast to be the fastest driver.”

Ostberg has an enviable record on this week’s Rally Sweden, having finished on the podium in five of the last six years.

Despite his lack of experience in the 2017 Fiesta, his shakedown time has marked him out as a genuine contender for victory.

“I don’t know about that,” Ostberg said, “but we have a very good starting position and we have to use this and take the maximum advantage. What I will say is that I have a fantastic feeling with this team – I wanted to be back in my own team and it’s really nice to be doing that.”

Ostberg paid tribute to the speed with which the Onebet Jipocar World Rally Team had put everything together.

“It’s been a quite stressful,” he said, “but, together with M-Sport, the team has built and brought to Norway a brand new World Rally Car in eight days – that’s an incredible achievement. We have a good group of guys around us here. It’s nice feeling right now.”

Breen’s second quickest time was similarly merit-worthy. The Irishman opened his season as an official Citroen driver by placing an ageing DS3 WRC fifth and top point-scorer for the French firm on last month’s Monte Carlo.

This week’s WRC snow round will mark Breen’s maiden outing at the top of the sport in a factory 2017-specification World Rally Car.

Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon was third, four tenths of a second behind Breen and 0.5s off Ostberg’s scratch time.

The New Zealander was back competing in an i20 WRC for the first time since the accident involving a spectator on the opening stage of Monte Carlo.

Breen’s teammate Kris Meeke was the fourth driver within a second of fastest time.

M-Sport teammates Ogier and Tanak elected to take a conservative approach during shakedown to look after the studded covers, in case they need to use them on the rally proper later this week.

Ogier was only 17th fastest, while Tanak was ninth, two places behind DMACK's Elfyn Evans.

Shakedown times:

Pos.DriverCarTime/Gap
1  Mads Ostberg Ford  4m11.6s
2  Craig Breen Citroen +0.1s
3  Hayden Paddon Hyundai +0.5s
4  Kris Meeke Citroen +0.6s
5  Dani Sordo Hyundai  +2.4s
6  Thierry Neuville Hyundai  +2.9s
7  Elfyn Evans Ford  +3.5s
8  Stephane Lefebvre Citroen +4.5s
9  Ott Tanak Ford  +4.5s
10  Jari-Matti Latvala Toyota +4.6s
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