After the asphalt of Monte Carlo, the stars of the FIA World Rally Championship switch to snowy, icy forest tracks for the second round of the series, the International Swedish Rally, which starts in Karlstad this evening. The event remains the...
After the asphalt of Monte Carlo, the stars of the FIA World Rally Championship switch to snowy, icy forest tracks for the second round of the series, the International Swedish Rally, which starts in Karlstad this evening. The event remains the last stronghold of Scandinavians, since no non-Nordic driver has ever won here, and with four-time World Champion Tommi Makinen on a high after his victory on Rallye Monte Carlo, rivals like Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Richard Burns face a tough fight to break the tradition. Unlike recent years, the roads to the north of Karlstad have seen extremely low temperatures in the days leading up to the start, and competitors will face icy tracks and relatively high snow banks when the action starts in earnest tomorrow morning.
MITSUBISHI (1st - 13 points)
Technical: The mechanical specification of the Lancer Evolution has changed little since the opening round of the World Rally Championship, the Rallye Monte Carlo last month. But Sweden is the first occasion that the heavily-revised rear suspension has been used on 'loose' surfaces. The design was tested extensively in Lapland before Christmas. Sporting: Local driver Thomas Radstrom will drive a third Lancer, and he will be nominated for manufacturers' points alongside Tommi Makinen. Freddy Loix, the team's regular second pilot, will thus be competing for drivers' points only. This is the first time that Mitsubishi has entered three official factory cars in a round of the World Rally Championship.
Quotes: Four-times FIA World Rally Champion Tommi Makinen said: "I hope that it doesn't snow because I'll be running first on the road and I'd prefer harder conditions so I don't sweep the road for everyone else. The conditions this year, with high snow banks, make it a bit safer but it's also more difficult for the drivers because there are a number of very tricky corners that can catch you out."
FORD (2nd - 6 points)
Technical: The Focus is largely unchanged in specification but Ford has worked hard to cure the problems with its 'fly-by-wire' throttle that blighted efforts in Monte Carlo. Revised backup systems for the unit have been introduced.
Sporting: The team uses the same driver line-up that appeared in Monte Carlo, with Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz nominated for manufacturers' points and François Delecour fighting for drivers' points only.
Quotes: Colin McRae said: "I don't think we have to do anything different to beat the Scandinavians here. If you look at previous years, you couldn't actually say we did anything wrong. They just seem to win through in the end. But my preparations here have gone well and I'm pretty confident. This is one of my favourite rallies and I'm certainly going to give it my best shot."
SKODA (3rd - 5 points)
Technical: There are few modifications to the Octavia WRC, but Skoda has been working hard on engine airflow to ensure that the motor works at more consistent temperatures.
Sporting: Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry will both drive Octavia WRCs on the car's first ever appearance in Sweden. Schwarz has had to make completely new pacenotes and Manfred Hiemer, has never competed on this event before.
Quotes: Armin Schwarz said: "This is only my third time on this event but I hope we can repeat the form we showed in Monte Carlo (fourth overall). It was a great start to the season for the whole team. But it won't be easy, because this is the first time the Octavia has been on ice and snow and I don't know the roads so well. If you think that the conditions are completely white, then you can imagine how hard it is to recall individual corners."
HYUNDAI (4th - 2 points)
Technical: Hyundai's engineers have been working on revised electronic mapping for the Accent's engine and transmission. Throttle response has been improved, while Sweden marks the first loose-surface event where the cars will be fitted with electronically-controlled front differentials. This will be the last appearance for the Accent in its current guise: Hyundai confirmed yesterday evening that an Evolution model will make its debut in Portugal next month, featuring a revised front end and improvements to both its engine and transmission.
Sporting: Local driver Kenneth Eriksson, a former winner of the Swedish Rally, returns to the team after he missed Monte Carlo in deference to Piero Liatti. Alister McRae drives the second Accent as usual. The Swedish also sees customer Accent WRCs for the first time: Norwegian brothers Thomas and Kristian Kolberg will use one apiece.
Quotes: Kenneth Eriksson said: "Some non-Scandinavians have come close to winning here in the past, and I'm sure one of them will win eventually. My intention here is to finish in the top three but I know it'll be difficult."
PEUGEOT ( 0 points)
Technical: All three works 206 WRCs will use three computer-controlled 'active' differentials. In the past, the French manufacturer's drivers have often opted for mechanical front and rear differentials but the team has opted for the more sophisticated set-up in an attempt to maximise traction.
Sporting: Reigning FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm is nominated for manufacturers' points after he was 'rested' from that task in Monte Carlo. His team-mate Didier Auriol spent much of today in bed, attempting to make as much of a recovery from bronchitis as he can before the action proper starts tomorrow. Sweden marks the first of Harri Rovanpera's six scheduled outings in a 206 WRC this season. The former SEAT driver landed the deal after he put in a couple of strong showings in a privately-run Toyota Corolla last year,
Quotes: Team Principal Corrado Provera said: "Harri is just here to prevent other drivers from scoring points against Marcus and Didier. Didier is not well at all and we hope he makes a good enough recovery, but at least Marcus and Harri were very happy with their cars at shakedown yesterday."
Harri Rovanpera said: "I feel like a small child waiting for Santa Claus! I've driven the 206 WRC for two days in testing, and at the shakedown, and it's easily the best car I've ever driven. I can't wait for the start."
SUBARU ( 0 points)
Technical: Subaru has tested extensively for this event, racking up more than 2000 kilometres beforehand. Petter Solberg alone notched up more than 500km in a single day. The ignition coil problems that sidelined Markko Martin and Richard Burns in Monte Carlo were due to a production fault, and the design of the item itself has not been altered.
Sporting: Richard Burns's co-driver Robert Reid will be competing in discomfort this weekend, thanks to a cracked sternum sustained in their recce accident in Monte Carlo. The Scot missed a pre-event test to aid his recovery. In contrast to Monte Carlo, Subaru has nominated Petter Solberg to score manufacturers' points instead of Markko Martin.
Quotes: Richard Burns said: "I'm looking forward to the start. We've done some good work with Pirelli and the car's felt good in testing. What happened in Monte Carlo wasn't the ideal start to the year but I feel pretty relaxed now. I'm optimistic we can score a good result." Team Principal David Lapworth said: "I think we've made some interesting developments with Pirelli since last year's event. Most of our testing was in icy, cold conditions so we'd prefer them to return, but we're pretty confident we've made a big step forward."
CITROEN (0 points)
The French manufacturer is not present in Sweden as it continues its preparations for the Xsara T4's debut, in Catalunya next month. It recently conducted a successful test session in Kenya, even though the Xsara is not scheduled to tackle the Safari this season.
The Swedish Rally is the opening round of the FIA Teams Cup for privateer drivers, and a dozen crews will start. Among the favourites for success in Sweden will be Pole Janusz Kulig (Ford Focus WRC), Oman driver Hamed Al Wahaibi (Subaru Impreza WRC2000) and Finn Pasi Hagstrom (Toyota Corolla WRC). European Champion Henrik Lundgaard (Toyota Corolla WRC) is another starter, although his limited experience of snowy conditions might prevent him from challenging for maximum Teams Cup points on this occasion.
Other private entries likely to feature strongly include former British Champion Tapio Laukkanen (Toyota Corolla WRC) and ex-SEAT driver Toni Gardemeister, who drives the same 206 WRC that he took to fifth overall in Monte Carlo.
In Group N, reigning category World Champion Manfred Stohl will face stiff opposition from local stars Kenneth Backlund, Stig-Olov Walfridsson and Mats Jonsson.
Last night, event stewards excluded three drivers - Olivier Marty, Gianluigi Galli and Alfredo de Dominicis - for conducting reconnaissance outside of the permitted schedule.
STAGE ITINERARY <pre> Leg 1, Friday 9th February (148.56km)
SS 1 09.01 Bjälverud 20.74km SS 2 09.27 Lönnhöjden 18.82km SS 3 10.21 Bogen 12.78km SS 4 13.00 Granberget 49.36km SS 5 15.31 Torntorp 20.38km SS 6 16.15 Sågfallet 26.48km
Leg 2, Saturday 10th February (118.72km)
SS 7 09.58 Kullen 26.61km SS 8 10.39 Nyhammar 1 27.79km SS 9 13.20 Fredriksberg 34.53km SS 10 14.11 Silkesberg 15.33km SS 11 15.40 Nyhammar 2 27.79km SS 12 17.10 Lugnet 2.00km
Leg 3, Sunday 11th February (98.01km)
SS 13 08.41 Sågen 1 14.99km SS 14 09.33 Rämmen 1 23.41km SS 15 11.25 Sågen 2 14.99km SS 16 12.17 Rämmen 2 23.41km SS 17 14.00 Hagfors 21.21km
ENTRY LIST (Top 30)
1 Grönholm/Rautiainen (FIN) Peugeot 206 WRC A8 2 Auriol/Giraudet (F) Peugeot 206 WRC A8 3 Sainz/Moya (E) Ford Focus RS WRC A8 4 C.Mcrae/Grist (GB) Ford Focus RS WRC A8 5 Burns/Reid (GB) Subaru Impreza WRC A8
6 Solberg/Mills (N/GB) Subaru Impreza WRC A8 7 Mäkinen/Mannisenmäki (FIN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo A8 8 Loix/Smeets (B) Mitsubishi Carisma GT A8 9 Eriksson/Parmander (S) Hyundai Accent WRC A8 10 Mcrae/Senior (GB) Hyundai Accent WRC A8
11 Schwarz/Hiemer (D) Skoda Octavia WRC A8 12 Thiry/Prevot (B) Skoda Octavia WRC A8 16 Rovanperä/Pietilainen (FIN) Peugeot 206 WRC A8 17 Delecour/Grataloup (F) Ford Focus RS WRC 01 A8 18 Märtin/Park (EE/GB) Subaru Impreza WRC 2001 A8 19 Rådström/Thörner (S) Mitsubishi Carisma GT A8 20 Solberg/Fløene (N) Toyota Corolla WRC A8
21 Laukkanen/Lindström (FIN) Toyota Corolla WRC A8 22 Hagström/Gardemeister (FIN) Toyota Corolla WRC A8 23 Gardemeister/Lukander (FIN) Peugeot 206 WRC A8 24 Tuohino/Vihavainen (FIN) Toyota Corolla WRC A8 25 Paasonen/Kapanen (FIN) Ford Focus RS WRC A8
26 Lundgaard/Anker (DK) Toyota Corolla WRC A8 27 Bäcklund/Andersson (S) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI N4 28 Walfridsson/Bäckman (S) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI N4 29 Jonsson/Johansson (S) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI N4 30 Stohl/Müller (A) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI N4