The Toyota driver, starting first on the road, blitzed the 5.16km Umea Sprint super special stage held in front of a sizeable crowd, to grab an early rally lead.
Despite some sections being incredibly slippery and traction at a premium, Rovanpera was the driver to beat as he completed the test 1.6s faster than his nearest rival M-Sport’s Ott Tanak.
«In some sections it’s quite slippery with the loose snow but otherwise it was quite good. I just didn’t feel like I was driving so good,» said Rovanpera.
Tanak was among a group of drivers to endure run-ins with the solid snowbanks, but the Estonian escaped a brush with the snow at a long left hander with minor damage to the rear of his Ford Puma.
Toyota’s Elfyn Evans was third fastest, 3.1s in arrears, but the Welshman wasn’t overly happy with his effort as he also suffered some damage to the rear bumper of his GR Yaris after finding a snowbank.
«I think the snowbanks are just so hard, as soon as you touch them it damages the bodywork straight away. Not a great run,» said Evans.
Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
Esapekka Lappi emerged as the top Hyundai but the Finn was lucky to reach the finish after a scrappy run. Lappi locked the wheels of his i20 N and went straight on at a right hander, but somehow bounced off the snowbank, losing only 3.9s to Rovanpera.
“It’s quite tricky with the braking. I couldn’t restart the car under braking and we went straight towards the bank,” said Lappi. “That’s how it is on the ice when you lock the wheels. It was good fun though.”
Teammate Thierry Neuville, still feeling the effects of flu that caused him to sit out a pre-event test day, came home in fifth, 5.0s adrift.
Competing in his first rally as a factory Toyota driver, Takamoto Katsuta netted sixth ahead of Hyundai’s Craig Breen on his return to the WRC with Hyundai. M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet completed the top eight.
In WRC2, Jari Huttunen edged Ole Christian Veiby by 0.9s, with Oliver Solberg third, a tenth further back.
Rally Sweden continues on Friday as crews tackle seven special stages.
WRC Rally Sweden — Top 10 classification after SS1