The Swedish International Rally (10 - 13 February) harbours one of the last great traditions of the FIA World Rally Championship in that no driver from outside the Nordic countries has won the event in its 49-year history. Nobody is more capable...
The Swedish International Rally (10 - 13 February) harbours one of the last great traditions of the FIA World Rally Championship in that no driver from outside the Nordic countries has won the event in its 49-year history. Nobody is more capable of ending that record than Ford Martini World Rally team drivers Carlos Sainz and co-driver Luis Moya and Colin McRae and partner Nicky Grist.
McRae regards this second round of the championship as his favourite rally. It was in 1992 that the Scot made his breakthrough at the sport's highest level, stunning the sport's experts by finishing second. Since then he has twice finished on the podium, in 1993 and 1997. Sainz has finished second for the past four seasons, never more than a minute behind the winner.
The four-day rally is the only true all-winter event in the series, thus favouring Scandinavian drivers. Snow and ice are the expected companion for the Ford Martini team's Focus World Rally Cars as they speed down the gravel-based roads. However, little snow this winter and temperatures hovering just below freezing point suggest ice will be the dominant factor next week.
"It's true that no driver outside Scandinavia has won this rally but it doesn't mean it's not possible for someone to do so," said 37-year-old Sainz. "We've been close to winning four times and last year we were less than 20 seconds behind the winner. So I think it will happen and I hope it will happen to me this year.
"I like the rally. The stages are very fast and I enjoy the challenge they offer to a driver. We tested in Sweden before Christmas and I had a good feeling in the snow so I think the Focus will be competitive. We have another test scheduled there before the rally which will give me a further chance to get used to the car in the snow," added Sainz.
McRae gave an insight into the art of driving quickly in the inhospitable conditions. "It's down to the studs. They provide the grip but because the tyres are not actually in direct contact with the ground, a driver experiences more of a floating sensation. The car moves around a lot more on studs and you have to remember to brake and set the car up a little bit earlier than you would normally.
"I like the rally because it's different. In full winter conditions it's great to drive on the snow but if there's not much snow it's not ideal because the gravel rips the studs from the tyres. The snowbanks alongside the road can be a big help because if you slide wide you will usually bounce back onto the road, but it's best to avoid clipping them because they drag a lot of speed from the car," he added.
The intense cold, with temperatures capable of falling as low as -20