KARLSTAD, Sweden (AP) Norway's Andreas Mikkelsen was in the lead ahead of Thierry Neuville of Belgium after Friday's opening stages of Rally Sweden, the second round of the World Rally Championship.
Mikkelsen clocked a total time of 1 hour, 14 minutes, 3.6 seconds in his Volkswagen after nine stages over snowy roads, while Neuville was 19.1 seconds behind in his Hyundai. Norwegian driver Mads Ostberg was third while defending world champion Sebastien Ogier of France was fourth after struggling with his windshield wipers as the snow started falling in the afternoon.
Another of the favorites, Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala was far behind after slamming his Volkswagen Polo into a snow bank after hitting a corner too fast. It forced him to stop 500 meters from the finishing line and Latvala lost 8:30 minutes.
''Obviously it's a great feeling to be leading,'' Mikkelsen said, adding he felt badly about the misfortune of Ogier and Latvala ''It's not great to profit from the misfortune of your teammates.''
Friday's stages started in Karlstad and took the drivers to Kirkenaer in neighboring Norway, and back to the southern Swedish town.
''We have two more days to go, and I don't expect Thierry, Mads or Seb are ready to give up just yet,'' Mikkelsen said.
The 21-stage rally ends Sunday.