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The second round of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship is the Swedish Rally (10-12 February). Martin Holmes previews the championship's only full snow event.

Although officially based as usual at Karlstad, there is a change of location of the rally’s epicentre, this time to be at Torsby, which is about 100km to the north west of Karlstad, not Hagfors.  In fact, after the ceremonial start on Thursday evening, followed by the super special at the Karlstad trotting track, the rally does not visit Karlstad at all this year.  

Once again this will be a cross-border event, with two stage venues and the majority of a third in Norway.  The move to Torsby has created difficulties with accommodation, with teams placing most of their crews at Sunne, 40km south of Torsby.  

This year the very bumpy publicity stage at Kirkaener is not being used, replaced by a new orthodox stage venue called Hof-Finnskog, each Norwegian stage used twice on the full opening day of the rally.   

In the hope of finding better traditional wintry weather conditions, there is a renewed concentration of stages further away from Karlstad, with virtually no special stages outside lines to the east or south of the Hagfors area.  

So Friday is Norway day, Saturday’s stages are based between Torsby and Hagfors, and Sunday’s route uses two runs over the northerly Likenas stage, with the Power Stage close to the finish at Torsby.  

The rally is due to return to the Karlstad region late Saturday afternoon for a second super special stage before returning to Torsby for overnight parc ferme.

In conjunction with the WRC event, there is a supporting rally for historic cars which will run over seven of the WRC stages, run between the two runs made by WRC competitors.
 
There are 46 entries, more than half the entry being for R5 cars, with 14 entries registered for WRC2 points.  There are 11 2017 WRC cars, one entry in WRC3 and two cars in WRC Trophy (for Valeriy Gorban’s Eurolamp team Mini and Lorenzo Bertelli’s FWRT Team).  

There are two major features of the entry.  Andreas Mikkelsen (third in the 2016 Drivers’ championship and Rally Australia winner) is missing from the list, still unable to establish a regular ride for 2017, notwithstanding a convincing victory in WRC2 at Monte Carlo, and this is to be the first event for the Bet One Jipocar World Rally Team.  

On this event, there is to be a single 2017 WRC entry from this team, for Mads Ostberg.  

The WRC2 entry includes one official car from Skoda, for Pontus Tidemand, who does not have to fight other official Skoda drivers, while M-Sport have entries for both Eric Camilli and Teemu Suninen.

Tommi Makinen Racing have entered Fiesta R5s for Takamoto Katsuta and Hiroki Arai.  Simone Tempestini has entered his Citroen DS3 R5 as a non-championship driver this time.  

One non-championship celebrity entry is the World Rallycross driver Johan Kristoffersson, now in his third year of amateur rallying, who moves for this event from his Fabia S2000 to a Fabia R5
 
Special change this year is no specific limit of days when teams could test their cars in Sweden.  The days used for Sweden testing this year simply comes out of their annual testing allocation, meaning that the teams have been testing for longer periods in Sweden than in previous years.  

Main technical curiosity is how the extra power of the engines of the 2017 cars will affect the tyre and stud wear, especially if the stages will be more frozen than snowy, as is forecast for the region of the stages.  

The WRC car tyres for this event are the same specification as those for the 2016 Swedish Rally.  And how the design of the aero parts in the front of the cars will react should there be heavy falls of snow is also of concern.  

A curiosity is that the organisers are still promoting the unofficial competition between drivers as to the lengths of the "Colin’s Crest" jump at the Vargasen stage, notwithstanding that rally car designers take a lot of trouble trying to keep the wheels of their cars on the ground!

Swedish Rally - Team by Team
 
Citroen
Citroen again have two 2017 cars, this time with Craig Breen alongside Kris Meeke and a non-championship 2016 specification car for Stephane Lefebvre.   

Monte Carlo had been a difficult event because the conditions were different to what were experienced during the test (full snow or no snow, but not a mix like during the rally).  Meeke’s stage 10 engine trouble is confirmed as ignition problem, but details are secret.

There were good winter conditions with ice and snow for their first Sweden test session, at the beginning of January, and hopefully their second test just before the rally will see conditions close to those of the actual event.  Two new 2017 World Rally Cars for the event, chassis 4 and 6.

Hyundai
Hyundai have again entered the same crews (Hayden Paddon, Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo) in chassis 3, 2 and 1, the same as at Monte Carlo.  The team were happy with Neuville’s performance until Saturday afternoon when a very small mistake cost him the lead.  

The changing conditions made it difficult to assess the performance level of the car for other events, but it proved the cars were easy to drive, and overall in terms of reliability there was only a small issue with power steering which was easy to fix.  

All the 2017 cars seem to be quite close in terms of performance, the most pressing development must be work on the differential, the power distribution from the engine to the wheels.  

The team did no Monte Carlo test in December because the conditions were not ideal, so that was postponed to this year before the event.  For Sweden testing the team had two perfect days with Neuville around Ostersund, but then the conditions suddenly changed and the team had to stop the test as the snow turned to the rain and warmer weather.  

The Sweden test resumed the week before the Swedish for Sordo and Paddon.
 
M-Sport
Monte Carlo ended with the first team WRC win since 2012, and almost a 1-2 result, a happy replay of 2011 when Fiesta WRCs dominated the first WRC event run under the 1.6 litre rules.  

The final day delay for Ott Tanak was confirmed as coil failure, while the team have been reticent to explain his problems with self-changing gearshift on stage 11, beyond confirming that there was an issue which was easily resolved and running as normal for the next stage.  It was unrelated to the issue on Sunday.  

For Sweden the team had two test sessions at Kall, near Ostersund, in December and the week before the Swedish Rally.  M-Sport brought the same three 2017 cars for Sebastien Ogier, Ott Tanak and Elfyn Evans as in Monte Carlo, while the One Bet Jipocar team have a new chassis (number 5) for Mads Ostberg.  

M-Sport also have three R5 first evolution R5 entries for Teemu Suninen and Eric Camilli (the same cars as at Monte Carlo), and also a Drive DMack Fiesta trophy prize drive entry for Gus Greensmith, being the chassis 200 shown at the Autosport Show.
 
Toyota
The team gained no unexpected lessons from Monte Carlo apart from surprise at the interest from spectators, especially in the service park.  

Two new cars for this event, chassis 3 for Jari-Matti Latvala and chassis 4 for Juho Hanninen.  

Special problem for Toyota Gazoo Racing concerned accommodation around Torsby because the team became considerably bigger than when the bookings were originally made six months earlier.  All the WRC teams had accommodation problems, with most teams only placing key members at Torsby and many stayed at Sunne.  

Only pre-event problem has been that the weather for the tests had been quite warm between Christmas and in late January.  The week before the rally the top team personnel had to be in Japan for the Toyota Gazoo Racing press conference.

This year represented the ninth anniversary of Latvala’s first World Rally Championship win, the youngest ever WRC winner.
 
- Martin Holmes

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