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There was barely any snow, and the weather was almost balmy, but RallySport Magazine's first visit to the famed Swedish Rally still lived up to expectations. * * * * * When you book an expensive trip to the other side of the world, to the one event in the WRC that is 100% reliant on the weather, you do take a risk. Nevertheless, as it was tacked on to the end of a three-week holiday with my wife, I thought it worth the risk – but never in my dreams did I imagine that conditions would be as bad as they were. Looking at weather forecasts in the weeks leading up to the rally didn't help to improve my optimistic outlook, yet there was nothing to be done other than wait and see what transpired. The rally organisers changed and shortened the route a week out from the event, and while this removed such famous Swedish stages like Hagfors, and the popular "Colin's Crest", it appeared we'd at least have a snowy rally on the stages that remained. That wasn't to be, however, and of the five different stages we saw run over the four days of the event, only one of them had any covering of snow. Of course this is not the fault of anyone, and the mild weather has played havoc right across Scandinavia, with much of the winter rally season abandoned due to warmer than normal conditions.
Yet that's of little comfort when you have travelled thousands of kilometres from a sunburnt country!
Having arrived in Sweden, however, the rally awaited, and with a group of at least a dozen other Aussies and Kiwis, we joined Rally Travel's spectator tour for the four days that lay head. Here are some of my observations ......

Norwegian fans were out in force at the pre-event shakedown.

Thursday: Shakedown We knew that the traditional shakedown stage near the service park at Torsby wouldn't have any snow, and on arriving at the stage we could easily have been at Rally Finland. Hordes of Norwegian fans with national flags greeted us as we walked to the stage, along a smooth, cresty, gravel road through a pine forest. It was still chilly, with temperatures around 4 degrees, so local fans had come prepared with bags of dry wood to light their own fires and cook their sausages. The action was, as expected, fast and on the edge. World Rally Cars on studded tyres on dry gravel have incredible grip, and the sparks from the tyres was something quite unique.
To be honest though, aside from the fact that we were in Sweden, this could have been a WRC event anywhere in the world.
After a visit to the snow-less service park in Torsby (near where Petter Solberg's team is based), it was back on the bus for the two-hour drive south to Karlstadt – the biggest city in the region, and the major financial supporter of the event. Again, because of the lack of snow, the opening stage had been converted from SS1 to "Shakedown 2", with all cars required to give a 'demonstration' run around the stage. Unfortunately for the fans, viewing is well back from the rally stage, which is run inside a trotting track. Sitting in a heated, glassed-in grandstand gave you warm and elevated viewing, but you were still a long way from the action. Watching the big screen gave you easily the best viewing.

Fans brave the icy conditions on the walk into the shakedown stage.

Carrying your own firewood into the forest is a key to keeping warm in Sweden.

WRC leader, Thierry Neuville, carves up a snow-less shakedown stage in his Hyundai.

Flying high - World Champion Ott Tanak eventually finished second.

Studded tyres on gravel aren't the best mix, but they grip well.

Friday: Day 1 After another early start, our hosts had chosen a location at the start of the second stage of the day, Finnskogen. Here, we were told, there was a good ice base on the road. The early morning temperature dropped to minus 8 on the way to the stage, and didn't rise much above that for the next couple of hours. When we arrived near the stage, we were in awe of the frozen lake that we parked beside, and that we could walk onto ... for those game enough. A long walk to the stage followed, and the surface was icy, with a smattering of snow around to at least make it look like we were in Sweden. For those of us on our first snow rally, the biggest surprise came when road sweeper, Thierry Neuville, slid past, covering us in dust – snow dust! Of course this makes total sense, but it wasn't really something we were expecting.
It was immediately clear how much more grip the cars had with their studded tyres when driving on solid ice. The speed and commitment of the drivers was something to behold.
Once again the local fans had come prepared with firewood to keep them warm, although with the right clothes on, and with a lengthy walk to the stage, fans were more likely to be hot than cold. After the running of the stage it was back to the service park in Torsby, before the running of the fourth (and final) stage of the day, held in and around a quarry adjacent to the service park. This was another stage that was totally snow free, and while the action was impressive, fans behind the fences had a tough job seeing the action. It was another of several occasions over the course of the weekend when it was clear that spectating at European WRC rounds isn't everything it's cracked up to be.

Finn Kalle Rovanpera slides past the Swedish flag on the opening day of Rally Sweden.

It was a luckless event for Jari-Matti Latvala, with technical problems sidelining his Yaris.

Many nationalities were represented among the spectators.

Sebastien Ogier was pipped for a podium place by his team-mate, but not through lack of trying.

Local fans cook their dinner on an impromptu fireplace near the service park.

Saturday: Day 2 The second day of Rally Sweden was an exact repeat of day one, and because of this, several of the Rally Travel tour group elected not to attend the rally. Instead, they choose to wander the streets of Arvika, near our hotel, and savour the local region. Despite this, and with reports that it had snowed a little overnight, we set off for a repeat of the same locations of the previous day. It had snowed and there was definitely a much more "Swedish Rally" feel our first stage of the day, but with a reduced field after the pre-event cancellation of the historic rally, it wasn't long before the rally had passed by. Back to the service park we went, and then another run around the Torsby Sprint – still with no sign of snow, and with deteriorating road conditions.

Locals ice skate on the frozen lake adjacent to the Finnskogen stage on Saturday.

It was a disappointing rally for Teemu Suninen in his Ford Fiesta.

Pirelli had their ice tyres on display, ready for their full WRC return in 2021.

It may have been 7.00am, but this didn't bother these fans ready for a long day in the forest.

We may have been in Sweden, but it was the Norwegians who were the most noticeable.

Peter Whitten (left) chats with WA duo Bob and Daymon Nicoli on a frozen lake. Photo: John Croutch

Combining work and pleasure, Peter Whitten captures the Rally Sweden action. Photo: Tim Allott

Sunday: Day 3 It was a warm 8 degrees on Sunday morning, and already the two-stage final day had been reduced to one stage – the final 21km 'Likenas' test that would count as the rally's Power Stage. Predictably, as we arrived at the stage, some two hours early to beat the traffic, it started to rain heavily, and wouldn't let up for the duration of the stage. The stage started at a rallycross track before heading into the forest. The tarmac surface – usually inches deep in snow – had been repeatedly watered in the days leading up to the rally to try and retain an ice base on the road. This would have been okay had the rain not descended. By the time the rally cars finally arrived, huge puddles filled the low points of the track, and any ice remaining provided little extra grip for the studded tyres. Surprisingly, there was only a small crowd in attendance to watch the stage. Many had already left for home, not bothering to attend the only stage for the day.
In fact, in my opinion, usual spectator numbers at Rally Australia were far superior to what we saw at any of the stages at Rally Sweden.
It was an interesting observation, although undoubtedly the weather conditions played a significant part in this. Action on the stage was good to watch though, with all to play for as drivers fought for position and Toyota team-mates Ogier and Rovanpera battled for the final podium place. After half the field passed it was back on the bus to head for the service park and the podium finish. The large British contingent on the tour were keen to see Elfyn Evans spray the champagne, and rightly so.

By Sunday, rain had made the stages wet and muddy for the final Power Stage.

A disappointingly small crowd watches Japan's Takamoto Katsuta on the final stage, Likenas.

A Toyota team member was injured when a light pole fell on spectators before the podium finish.

As fans waited for the 3pm podium celebration, the rain got heavier and the wind became almost gale force, which result in a huge light tower attached to the WRC TV studio falling down into the crowd of spectators. There was panic and confusion until it was realised that, amazing, nobody was seriously hurt, although a senior member of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Team had been struck on the head and required transportation to hospital, via ambulance. Once the mess had been cleaned up, and the WRC TV studio hastily pulled down, the podium celebrations got underway.
Perhaps the proudest person at the rally finish was Elfyn Evans' father, Gwyndaf, a British rally legend in his own right.
Gwyndaf hadn't been at the rally, but flew in on Sunday to be there as his son crossed the finish line for his second WRC victory, and his first for Toyota. The smile on his face reflected that of proud parents the world over as they watch their children achieve success. Soon it was time to return to the hotel for our post-tour dinner, where we caught up with new friends and old, and packed our bags ready for our onward journeys, or our trip home. Rally Sweden had been an incredible experience – certainly not the one I'd been hoping for, but an experience just the same. After all, it's a Rally Sweden that will be talked about for years and years to come, even if it is for all the wrong reasons.

Elfyn Evans prepress to celebrate his second WRC victory, and Scott Martin's first.

Proud as punch. Gwyndaf Evans was beaming with delight after son, Elfyn, took victory.

Toyota Gazoo Racing celebrate Elfyn Evans' 2020 Rally Sweden victory.

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