After a snow-covered Monte-Carlo rally, the World Rally Championship competitors must now brace themselves for the coldest round of the year. Studded tyres will be the order of the day on the frozen roads of Sweden and Norway for one of the season’s most spectacular rallies.
Two-time winners of the Scandinavian event, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen will be determined to come away with a strong result at one their favourite rallies.
This round will see Khalid Al Qassimi and Scott Martin make their competitive debut in the DS3 WRC of the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRT. Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio will also be competing for Citroën Racing in a fourth car.
Even if you don’t speak Finnish fluently, on-board camera footage of Mikko Hirvonen at Rally Sweden is nonetheless compelling viewing.
Totally unflappable, Jarmo Lehtinen calls out the pace notes at a rate of knots, while his driver controls the DS3 WRC as it flies from one jump to the next… at speeds approaching 180kph!
In a few days time, fans of the World Rally Championship will be able to admire their idols on stages that sometimes look more like a bobsleigh track!
After winning here in 2010 and 2011, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team crew will be very determined to claim another victory in Karlstad.
‘‘Since we finished Monte-Carlo, I have been totally focussed on this rally,’’ confirmed Mikko. ‘‘Last year, it was only my second rally in the DS3 WRC and I was missing that little something you need to grab the win.
A year later, I feel ready to secure my first win in 2013. Obviously, we’ll have to deal with the conditions, which can vary depending on how cold it gets and any snowfall. That can affect the wear of the tyres.
The new Michelin X-Ice North tyres seem more hard-wearing on the frozen gravel, but we’ll only really be able to tell in the race!’’
Winners of the opening round of the season, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena continue their partial racing programme with Rally Sweden.
The only ‘non-Nordic’ crew to have won here, the nine-time World Champions would dearly love to repeat the feat. ‘‘I remember how surprised Yves Matton was when I suggested including this rally in my programme,’’ recalled Seb.
‘‘It is undoubtedly not one of the rallies where I have enjoyed the most success in recent years, but that’s exactly why I’m keen to compete here. To be honest, our win here in 2004 wasn’t a particularly great race.
We won mainly because the other guys ran into problems. Since then I have been trying to understand and master these stages. So, I am here one final time to try and go out in style!’’
Two weeks after finishing as runner-up in the Qatar Rally, the opening round of the Middle East Rally Championship, Khalid Al Qassimi and Scott Martin are set to radically change their surroundings as they head for the county of Värmland.
Nominated to score points for the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRT, the Emirati driver will be taking part in his fourth Rally Sweden: ‘‘No, it’s not really a surface that comes naturally to me, but I have improved here every year, so much so that I finished in the points last time I competed in 2011.
This will be my first rally with the team and the DS3 WRC, so I don’t want to set myself too high a target. It would be a great start if I could finish in the points.’’
Third overall in Monte-Carlo, Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio will be the extra Citroën crew at this rally. Like all the drivers who do not come from Northern Europe, the Spaniard has become increasingly accustomed to the surface the more he has competed here.
‘‘Although I still think I can improve further on this surface, I was on the pace in 2010 when I finished on the podium,’’ recalled Dani.
‘‘My goal for this rally is very simply to produce the best possible result. The fact that I won’t be scoring points towards the Manufacturers’ Championship will help to take the pressure off me.’’
Theree Questions for Yves Matton
You were in Qatar for the first round of the Middle East Rally Championship. What did you think of it?
‘‘I have followed the MERC1 for several years now, and Citroën’s involvement will contribute to the rapid development of motorsport in this part of the world.
Khalid Al Qassimi led for much of the rally before dropping back to second, but he proved that the Citroën DS3 RRC was a formidable weapon on this kind of event.
As there are only six rounds, this championship is first and foremost about consistency. With the 18 points he earned for second place, Khalid had a very successful first round.
Mohammed Al Sahlawi and Mohammed Al Mutawaa, our two young drivers competing in DS3 R3s, also learned a great deal.’’
Turning our attention to Rally Sweden… It’s quite surprising to see Sébastien Loeb take part in an event where he hasn’t much success in the past!
‘‘Yes, that was our initial reaction when we first discussed his 2013 programme with Seb! But the more you think about it, the more it makes sense.
Seb and Daniel are above all competitors, and the idea of tackling a surface that they have found testing can only serve to motivate them. They quickly fell out of contention for the win last year, but they had the pace to challenge for first place.’’
A few weeks ago, you talked about the possibility of additional drivers competing in DS3 WRCs. Do you have any news on that?
‘‘As Khalid is unable to take part in Rally Mexico, he wanted us to entrust the DS3 WRC of the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRT to Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot for this rally.
Chris competed in the 2012 edition and we know he has the potential to do Abu Dhabi Racing proud. Benito Guerra, the 2012 P-WRC Champion, will also be taking part in his home rally in a private DS3 WRC.’’