Mikko Hirvonen won Rally Sweden for a second successive year as he held off the challenge of Mads Ostberg.
Ford Abu Dhabi's flying Finn Mikko Hirvonen wins Rally Sweden
Mikko Hirvonen had said prior to the start of the season that he was confident that he had put the problems of 2010 behind him, and the Finn backed up his words yesterday with a calm drive to win the opening round of the World Rally Championship (WRC) in Sweden.
The BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver won in Karlstad for the second successive year, triumphing by 6.5 seconds from Mads Ostberg.
A good day for the Ford team was capped by Hirvonen's teammate Jari-Matti Latvala taking third place, while Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi scored his first point in Sweden as the Emirati driver battled through the snowy conditions to take 10th place.
But yesterday belonged to Hirvonen, who had not won a rally since last year's event, finishing on the podium only once more in 2010 as mistakes and unreliability cost him dear and left him only sixth in the championship.
He said: "The car has been quick straight away and after a tough season last year I am really pleased with this. But I am not taking this feeling any further. We've won here and now we need to move on to the next round in Mexico."
The Finn, who had been expected to struggle to hold on to his overnight lead of 10 seconds going into yesterday's five final stages, set his stall out by going fastest on the opening two stages to extend his advantage by three seconds.
Ostberg though hit back by out-pacing Hirvonen over the next two stages to cut the gap to 4.9 seconds going into the final stage, but Hirvonen kept his cool and out-paced his 23-year-old Norwegian rival to claim his 13th WRC victory.
Latvala battled with Petter Solberg's privateer Citroen for the final podium spot, with it going the Ford driver's way on the final stage in bizarre fashion.
Solberg had committed a speeding offence driving between stages during the event and had his road licence suspended by Swedish police, meaning that Chris Patterson, his co-driver, had to drive the final stage.
He was 50 seconds slower than fastest man Sebastien Ogier, dropping him behind Latvala and Ogier to take fifth place.
Under new rules for the WRC this season, Ogier's victory on the final stage, which was called a Power Stage, earned him an additional three championship points.
Sebastien Loeb, the seven-time world champion, who finished a distant sixth overall, picked up two for being second quickest, with Latvala one for being third.
Al Qassimi battled for ninth place with Matthew Wilsonbut had to be content with 10th.
The next round of the championship takes place in Mexico between March 3-6.
* Compiled by Graham Caygill, with agencies