Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen pipped Mads Ostberg by 6.5 seconds to clinch the season-opening Rally of Sweden on Sunday.
Hirvonen, who led Norway’s Ostberg by 7.5 seconds at the beginning of stage 17, increased the margin to 13.7 seconds in the morning loop with three successive stage victories.
The Finn began to shed time in the afternoon as he struggled to cope with loose snow, and went into the deciding stage a mere 4.9 seconds ahead.
But that margin proved to be enough for Hirvonen, who held off Ostberg through the 4.16km course to clinch his 13th world championship victory and first of the new WRC era.
“I was fairly nervous before the last stage,” Hirvonen said.
“It’s been a fantastic start by the team – a new car and victory straightaway. I am really happy to have made such a good start to the season.”
Ostberg clinched his maiden podium spot behind Hirvonen, and Jari-Matti Latvala rounded out an all-Ford podium 34 seconds behind his fellow Finn.
Sebastien Ogier claimed three bonus points by winning the first Power Stage before finishing fourth overall ahead of Petter Solberg, whose day ended in bizarre fashion after he was caught speeding by Swedish police.
The Norwegian was forced to relinquish the wheel to Chris Patterson for the final road section and special stage, with his Citroen co-driver carefully guiding the car to a fifth-place finish.
World champion Sebastien Loeb finished a lowly sixth after being hampered by two punctures and a loss of power due to a snow-blocked intake.