The defending world champion won the opening two stages of the day to climb to the top of the sheets from overnight leader Mikkelsen by 8.7 seconds but the Norwegian fought back to win two of the three subsequent stages on home turf in Norway to retake the top spot by just 0.2 seconds.
“I just tried to drive as fast as I can,” said Mikkelsen. “When you see so many Norwegians cheering you on, you want to do well!”
But Ogier emerged ahead again after he claimed SS7, which ran back in Sweden, to end the day with a lead of 5.8 seconds from Mikkelsen, who had opted for old tyres in the final stage of the day to save a fresh set for Friday’s attack.
“We could have chosen to take new tyres now, but then we would have used tyres tomorrow morning. I preferred to lose time here and have new tyres in the morning. It would have been nice to fight for the lead overnight but it’s a long rally and that’s what we must think about,” Mikkelsen pointed out.
“My goal remains a podium finish. I will certainly not risk everything, but anything is possible,” he added.
Volkswagen’s dominance completed with Jari-Matti Latvala in third place, just over 12 seconds off the pace, but the Finn struggled in the slower, technical sections.
“I didn’t drive well today,” Latvala confessed.
Six of the seven stages have gone to Volkswagen so far, with another 17 to go over the next two days.
“Tomorrow, Andreas, Jari-Matti and I will be on a level footing in terms of road order, so it’s going to be a tough fight,” reckoned Ogier.
An impressive Ott Tanak was admittedly surprised after he emerged as the quickest Ford driver in fourth. He has featured in the top four in every test so far, won SS5 and is only within three seconds of a podium slot.
Mads Ostberg remained the quicker Citroen driver in fifth ahead of Mikko Hirvonen with the top six covered by 23 seconds.
“It hasn’t been a distaster, could be better, could be worse,” summed up Hirvonen, who had observed earlier that the “Volkswagen boys are going really fast.”
The Hyundai pair of Thierry Neuville and Juho Hanninen followed, with the Belgian nearly having won SS5, ahead of Pontus Tidemand and Kris Meeke, who kept “everything within 90 percent” as he continued his learning experience.
“I’m not too bothered about where I am in the standings – the times only serve as a benchmark for me,” Meeke explained his aim to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
A cautious Robert Kubica was in 11th, nearly a minute behind, ahead of Elfyn Evans.
“Sometimes you can see a surface change, but with no experience, you have no idea what to expect,” Kubica said. “For a first time here in Sweden, and having never been to an event like this before, I don’t think we could have done much more.”
The sole Pirelli-shod Henning Solberg was impressive but a puncture in the final stage cost him 50 seconds dropping him to 12th.
“We hit a stone and had to drive the whole stage with a puncture so that was a bit unlucky,” reported Solberg. “But other than that we have had a really good day. It’s been a long time since I’ve been behind the wheel, so to see that the speed was still there was really good – a second fastest time (in SS4) for a man in his 40s isn’t so bad!”
“But a lot of others were more interested in filming us with their phones,” Prokop added.
As a result, Neuville said that he “lost around two seconds” as the car was stuck in a narrow portion of the course.
Friday will feature nine stages and will cover just over 117 kilometres.
Leading positions after SS7: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Sebastien Ogier VW 39m56.5s 2. Andreas Mikkelsen VW +5.8s 3. Jari-Matti Latvala VW +12.2s 4. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford +14.8s 5. Mads Ostberg Citroen +22.5s 6. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport Ford +22.5s 7. Thierry Neuville Hyundai +32.0s 8. Juho Hanninen Hyundai +42.0s 9. Pontus Tidemand M-Sport Ford +44.6s 10. Kris Meeke Citroen +46.6s