As in 2006, Marcus Gronholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) succeeded in coming out of his early duel with Sebastien Loeb (Citroen/BFGoodrich) on top. Also like last year, it was a different tyre choice (a difference of 0.5mm between the 'normal' and 'long...
As in 2006, Marcus Gronholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) succeeded in coming out of his early duel with Sebastien Loeb (Citroen/BFGoodrich) on top. Also like last year, it was a different tyre choice (a difference of 0.5mm between the 'normal' and 'long stud' options) that enabled the Finn to pull clear of his archrival. Mikko Hirvonen (Ford/BFGoodrich) finished on the podium to enable Ford to close on Citroen in the Manufacturers' points table going into Rally Norway, a newcomer to the World Rally Championship which starts next Friday.
After a somewhat disappointing Monte Carlo Rally, ice cool Marcus Gronholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) retaliated in style in temperatures that dipped as low as 15C and at speeds of up to 200kph over the Varmland's snowy lanes.
It was the fifth Swedish Rally win of the Finn's career, his 26th in total, a score that takes him level with Carlos Sainz as the second most successful driver in WRC history, but still three wins short of Sebastien Loeb.
The first leg was predominantly icy with relatively little snow cover and it didn't take long for the winners of the last three Swedish Rallies to emerge in front. But although Petter Solberg (Subaru/BFGoodrich) took control after SS2, he was soon dislodged from top spot by Marcus Gronholm (Ford/BFGoodrich) three stages later.
Meanwhile, Sebastien Loeb left Karlstad on Friday morning in an unfamiliarly lowly 21st position after he had lost time by stalling on the start line of the previous evening's superspecial. By the end of the leg however, he was back up to 2nd place and snapping at Gronholm's heels, just 11.1 seconds behind the Finn and 11.5s clear of Solberg.
The following day, however, this threesome was whittled down to a duo when Solberg spent nearly 15 minutes off the road on Saturday's second test.
Indeed, shortly afterwards, the Norwegian chose to throw in the towel in order to spare his mechanicals ? and tyres ? for next weekend's Rally Norway.
Running on different tyres, Marcus Gronholm (g- Force Ice 'normal stud') and Sebastien Loeb ('long stud') claimed one fastest time apiece on Leg 2's first loop of stages, the Frenchman winning the short SS9, while Marcus was quickest over the long SS10 (34km), albeit just 6/10ths of a second faster than Loeb who, at this stage, was less than 10s from the Finn. However, the following group of stages (SS11/12) saw the rally tip definitively in the Ford driver's favour. Both of these tests had been contested the previous day and, for maximum grip over the sheet ice, all the BFGoodrich opted for the 'normal stud' option. All, that is, except for Loeb who preferred to stay with 'long' studs. Buy it was the wrong call and the Frenchman ceded practically 30s in two stages, allowing Gronholm to pull out an unassailable gap at the top.
In their wake, meanwhile, an equally fierce scrap opposed Henning Solberg, Mikko Hirvonen, Toni Gardemeister and Daniel Carlsson who completed the first day grouped within just 15 seconds.
In the end, Mikko Hirvonen (3rd) succeeded in outpacing the rest of the group on the afternoon of Day 2 to make it an excellent weekend overall for Ford in Manufacturers' championship terms, while the excellent run of Gardemeister (6th) was spoiled by transmission failure.
Another exciting fight on Sunday morning opposed Carlsson (5th, Citroen/BFGoodrich) and Atkinson (8th, Subaru/BFGoodrich) for 5th spot, but the Swede ending up coming out on top when the Australian lost time with an off on SS18.
Sebastien Loeb (Citroen/BFGoodrich)
"I lost a few seconds at the very beginning of the rally when I stalled at the start of SS1. I also lost time when I was distracted on SS5. Even so, I think the outcome was decided by my poor tyre choice on Saturday. It was totally my fault. Since the start, I had been running slightly longer studs than Marcus and it had worked. So I continued with the same choice for SS11 and 12 but this time there was really too much ice for the longer option and I could feel my studs moving in the tread blocks making the car unstable."
Thierry Kindt, BFGoodrich Developer
"The difference between the amount of stud that protrudes from the tread blocks with the g-Force Ice 'normal stud' and 'long stud' options is a mere 0.5mm. That really isn't much but it can make a huge difference! With longer studs, you have a bigger contact patch and the studs strike deeper into the ice. According to tyre pressures, between 18 and 20 studs per tyre are in contact with the ground at any one time. A difference of just 0.5mm therefore represents a difference in the size of the contact patch of 11 per cent, which is considerable. You could be forgiven for thinking that the more the studs protrude from the tyre then the more competitive you are going to be. But that's not the case, for three reasons:
1) the way the stud is fixed in the tyre. The FIA regulations dictate a maximum overall length for the studs of 2cm. So the more that sticks out from the tyre, the less metal there is actually inside the tread block and this increases the risk of them breaking or being pulled out.
2) the way the stud penetrates the ice. Longer studs do not bite entirely into the ice and the car can become uncontrollable.
3) the conditions. For the 'long stud' option to function, there must be a sufficiently thick layer of snow."
Matthieu Bonardel, BFGoodrich Rallies Manager
"As in 2006, Marcus and Sebastien were neck and neck up to the middle of the second day. From the start, they had been running different tyre strategies, with Loeb systematically choosing a slightly 'longer' option than Marcus. This tactic paid off for Sebastien on Day 1 because he was running first on the road, but it wasn't so clear-cut the following day and it was even potentially a handicap for the repeated stages. We were also keen to see how the battle between Carlsson and Galli went. They were driving similar cars but running on different tyres. Apart from the Italian's very brief early showing, Daniel Carlsson had the edge over the full weekend. Our tyres were very durable and fewer studs came free than they did in 2006. Finally, it's the first time that the drivers have had to think about managing their tyre stocks with a view to the next rally and that produced a few surprising choices. For Norway, the priority drivers will have to choose 21 of their list nominated for Sweden."