Free Preview: 68th Swedish Rally
Martin Holmes runs us through his comprehensive Rally Sweden preview in what has been a difficult leadup for both teams and organisers.
As to Rally Sweden itself when it became evident that the suitability of weather conditions was becoming marginal, a series of alternative routes were checked out.
The options being to concentrate on stages in Norway and shortening of the route generally and abandoning the Swedish stages originally planned for Saturday.
Within this process, recce was shortened to one day.
Each day in the week leading up to the event, new and relevant circumstances emerged. Changes to the route have been made almost every day…
The current situation is that apart from the opening stage at Karlstad trotting track, no stage is to run south of the 60th parallel through Torsby.
There have been countless casualties from the unseasonal weather.
One of the most disappointing is the cancellation of the popular Vargasen stage, home of the spectacular Colin’s Crest where traditionally competitors vie for the honour of achieving the longest jump.
The effective event epicentre is at the Torsby airport Service park close by the two Torsby sprint stages. The pre-event Shakedown stage also nearby as well.
The poor snow coverage this year highlights the ever-changing character of this event.
For 30 years Swedish drivers had been unbeaten on their home event (until the Finn Hannu Mikkola in 1981), the final time a Swedish driver won the Swedish Rally was 16 years later when Kenneth Eriksson won in a Subaru in 1997.
A provisional list of the 53 entries were received by Rally Sweden when entries closed.
The total Swedish entry is less than in the past two years but the total number of World Rally Cars (11) and entries in WRC 2 (five) is the same as at Monte Carlo.
The Hyundai team’s WRC line up was going to be the same as in Monte Carlo but made a late driver change, Sebastien Loeb was replaced for this event by Craig Breen.
M-Sport has replaced Greensmith by the privateer 39-year-old Lithuanian Deividas Jocius.
Sixteen crews have been entered in the Junior WRC category in R2 cars, now competing in the newly renamed RC4 class.
Team by Team
Mads Ostberg has the same C3 R5 as at Monte Carlo. Ostberg had two days of testing a week before the event.
The most major development changes for the C3 have been a new rear wishbone in April 2019 and brake cooling ducts last October.
Thierry Neuville has his Monte Carlo car while Breen is to drive the car used by Loeb in Monte Carlo. Tanak has a new chassis for this event, number 024.
Breen meanwhile has also been given a new European Rally Championship programme in an i20 R5 run out of Italy by the BRC team using MRF tyres. Half of the ERC is run on tarmac events whereas previous rally successes for MRF has been on gravel events.
All three crews carried out testing near Torsby the week before the event.
Breen’s best WRC result so far was in 2018 on the Swedish with Citroen when he finished second overall.
WRC2 drivers Ole Christian Veiby (chassis 80) and Nikolay Gryazin (81) have the same cars as in Monte Carlo.
Crew Notes: Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (#11 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
“An ideal Rally Sweden would have lots of snow, huge snowbanks, very icy roads, the perfect conditions for us to go fast with full confidence to get the most out of the car. When the road is properly frozen, the studs get good grip and you can go flat out.
“Obviously, if there will be less snow than previous years it could be quite tough to do the stages. Our tyres are very thin and very high, so they won’t work the same on gravel stages and it’s going to be really tricky. Without the snowbanks, the rally gets faster and faster, and less interesting, so we keep our fingers crossed for a lot of snow to arrive.”
Crew Notes: Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (#8 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
“Since Monte, I have been feeling better every day. We learned a very good lesson, and we know now that each time we have to drive a new section, we really need to focus more than ever before.
“Driving in Sweden is always very special, particularly when we get some frozen, icy conditions. The grip from the spiked tyres is extremely high and gives a great feeling. It will be important for us to get back some points and to improve step-by-step.
“It will be our first time on loose surface with Hyundai, but I hope we can deliver a good result.”
Crew Notes: Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (#16 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
“I am very humbled to have the chance of getting behind the wheel of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC again. It’s been a long time since Wales Rally GB, so I’m excited and anxious. From the first moment I drove the car, I felt a lot of confidence and that I could drive my own natural way.
“Sweden is a rally I enjoy; I scored my best-ever result in the World Championship there a few years ago. Hopefully the conditions will be favourable for us and the cold will arrive in the region for us to have ‘proper’ roads. Regardless, when I am back in my happy place driving a WRC car, I will have a nice weekend.”
Main reaction from Monte Carlo was the disappointment that Greensmith suffered from the special Monte Carlo regulation limiting the numbers of crews allowed to run on the Sunday to sixty (he was lying 66th overall, after missing six stages earlier with no priority because of the status of the team).
The other was the frustration on the Thursday evening at the loss of power each WRC car suffered due to leaves blocking the radiator air inlet for which a provisional fix prevented the problem recurring.
It was a promising first event in the team for fourth-placed Lappi and third best time for Suninen on the Power Stage.
For Sweden all three WRC cars and two WRC2 cars will be the same as in Monte Carlo, testing provisional schedules for one day for all the cars.
Crew Notes: Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (#4 Ford Fiesta WRC)
“I’ve had some good results at Rally Sweden – especially last year when we finished second on our second event with a new car so let’s see if we can do the same again this year! Of course the competition will be strong and no one really knows what the conditions will be like, but we will give it our best.
“We’re testing this weekend when we’ll get our first indication of what to expect. The Swedish stages are always fast, which I enjoy, but there could only be a small layer of ice which will make tyre management pretty important when it comes to retaining the studs for the whole loop. Fourth on the road could be a decent position, but let’s wait and see.”
Crew Notes: Teemu Suninen/Jarmo Lehtinen (#3 Ford Fiesta WRC)
“Last year we found a good set-up for the soft snow and rutted conditions, and it worked really well for us – leading after the first full day and showing good speed throughout the weekend. This year the plan is to show that same speed consistently and without mistakes.
“Of course a lot will depend on the weather. It’s great that the organisers have been able to make the rally happen, but we will have to wait and see what the conditions are like. I’m hoping for snow, and we’ll have a test this weekend to prepare. Whatever the weather, we will give it our best and I hope to be in a good battle.”
A record number of five Toyota Yaris WRC cars will be competing in Sweden.
Three are to be driven by regular registered Toyota Gazoo Racing team drivers, the supported Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta and the private entry by 35-year-old veteran Jari-Matti Latvala making his 209th appearance on a WRC event, celebrating the twelfth anniversary of becoming, at 22 years old, the youngest ever WRC winner.
Latvala’s co-driver on this occasion will be Juho Hanninen making his debut in the WRC as a codriver. In his former international career as a driver, Juho was IRC champion in 2010, Super 2000 champion in 2011 and European Champion in 2012.
An occasion for nostalgia for Kalle Rovanpera as the Swedish Rally in 2001 was the only time his father Harri won a WRC event (in a Peugeot 206 WRC). It was a strange occasion when Peugeot did not register Harri for WRC championship points! Harri’s two 2001 WRC registered teammates were Marcus Gronholm and Didier Auriol, both of which retired.
Crew Notes: Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (#17 Toyota Yaris WRC)
“I definitely love Rally Sweden. It’s a magic event, the only one on full snow on the calendar, and driving on those roads is very special. I certainly hope to be performing well there again this year.
“I’ve had some good times there in the past, but it has been a bit more of a struggle in the last few years – I guess partly because of my start position, as coming to Sweden while leading the championship has been very challenging. This year will be slightly different so let’s see what we can do.
“Rallye Monte-Carlo was a very positive start for the whole team, and they have been performing very well in Sweden, so hopefully we are able to do the same this time.”
Crew Notes: Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (#33 Toyota Yaris WRC)
“I’m really looking forward to Rally Sweden. The car was feeling really good in our winter testing on snow, so I’m hoping for another good event there. Rallye Monte-Carlo was overall a positive start for us in the Toyota Yaris WRC, even though our result could have been even better.
“Road position can play a big part in Sweden, depending on what sort of conditions we’ll find: if there’s a lot of loose snow, then there is a big advantage for those starting further back. But like any other rally, we’ll go in and do the best we can from the first stage.”
Crew Notes: Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (#69 Toyota Yaris WRC)
“I enjoy snow rallies a lot, so Rally Sweden should be a nice event for us. I think it should be easier for me than Rallye Monte-Carlo, but we will also need to push more to the limits there. Driving the Yaris WRC has been a lot of fun so far, and on snow it has been an amazing car to drive.
“We did the Arctic Rally in January in the Yaris and that was good preparation for us, but the conditions in Sweden could be tricky because there has been not so much snow, so we will have to see just how helpful it really was.”