The 65th edition of the Swedish Rally gets underway tonight in the rally’s base at Karlstad for the inaugural Super Special Stage.
The only permanent snow and ice round this season, it is a unique event in a somewhat gravel-filled 13-event WRC calendar and offers the drivers all sorts of problems and opportunities.
For reigning champion Sébastien Ogier, winning is no difficult task and certainly not in Sweden, where he has won three times in the last four years. He led the entirety of the 2016 edition which saw eight special stages cancelled due to lack of snow. So far, none of the stages are lacking snow therefore all 18 stages over four days are set to go ahead.
Toyota couldn’t have had a better debut last time out in Monte Carlo when Jari-Matti Latvala finished second place in the new Toyota Yaris on the Japanese manufacturers return after an 18 year sabbatical. The Finn is equally as impressive on the slippery snow as former team mate Ogier, also taking a trio of victories in the Varmland region of Sweden, straddling the border with Norway.
Latvala’s maiden WRC victory back in 2008 came in Sweden whilst driving for Ford, setting the record for the youngest ever winner of a WRC round at 22 years, 313 days old. It’s a record that still stands to this day nine years later. He repeated his Swedish success in 2012 and finally in 2014 for VW. He will be hunting for an even higher position last time out setting up an interesting battle between himself and M-Sport’s Sébastien Ogier.
Craig Breen stunned many people three weeks ago in Monte Carlo when he drove a 2016-spec Citroen DS3 to fifth overall while Stéphane Lefebvre and Kris Meeke in the more powerful 2017-spec Citroen C3’s finishing ninth and failing to finish respectively, although the Frenchman took second in the Power Stage claiming an additional four championship points.
The Waterford native will be competing in the new C3 during this weekends round in Sweden while Lefebvre will take the reigns in the old DS3. Mads Ostberg makes his return to the WRC as a non-manufacturers entrant for M-Sport, having lost his full seat in place of four-time champion Ogier. The Norwegian is a snow specialist having taken four podium finishes since 2011. He is another one to keep an eye on over the course of the weekend as a potential dark horse for a podium.
In the WRC-2 division, it was a near clean sweep for Skoda last time out with Andreas Mikkelsen and Jan Kopecky earning the Czech brand a one-two in Monte Carlo. Skoda will have only one representative in Sweden courtesy of Pontus Tidemand who competed at Monte Carlo as a non-WRC-2 entry and was narrowly squeezed out by Bryan Bouffier for world championship points. The Swedish native made his WRC debut in Karlstad back in 2012 and has been a regular at the rally since, earning his first world championship points finish in 2014 in a Fiesta World Rally Car.
The stepson of Norwegian rally champion Henning Solberg will be competing alongside his stepfather this weekend. Henning will be competing in a Skoda Fabia R5 similar to Tidemand’s but not for WRC-2 points. Henning’s dynasty will also be represented by his youngest son Oscar Solberg. Twenty year old Oscar will be rallying an R2T-spec Ford Fiesta completing the holy trinity of Henning Solberg’s legacy.
Tidemand won’t have it all his way this weekend as he will be directly competing with Adapta Motorsport’s Eyvind Brynildsen who was awarded the Collins Crest Award last year for setting the highest jump at the now famous ‘Collins Crest’. The 45 meter leap was also a record for the jump and even more impressive was that he set it in an R5-spec car instead of the World Rally Car monsters.
Meanwhile in WRC-3, Louise Cook will be all on her own with no other competitors selecting Sweden as their points scoring rounds. Simply finish and it’s maximum points for the crowdfunded Maidstone native.