This week's Swedish Rally (8 - 11 February) is the first half of a FIA World Rally Championship double-header in the Scandinavian winter that will provide the teams with one of their most intense periods of the season. The first of two events in...
This week's Swedish Rally (8 - 11 February) is the first half of a FIA World Rally Championship double-header in the Scandinavian winter that will provide the teams with one of their most intense periods of the season. The first of two events in northern Europe on consecutive weekends, it is traditionally characterised by snow, ice and numbing cold which guarantee ideal driving conditions but place huge demands on man and machine.
BP-Ford's all-Finnish line-up of Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen will feel comfortable in the barren, ice-bound countryside of the Varmland region of central Sweden. They grew up in such conditions and their rallying careers encompassed winter competition from the very start. Along with the following weekend's Rally Norway, which starts just four days after the Swedish Rally finishes, this second round of the championship offers the harshest environment of the year. Temperatures can plunge as low as -30C and the unrelenting cold requires huge resolve and determination from technicians forced to lie in the snow and work on the team's Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars in such extremes.
Marcus Gronholm/Timo Rautiainen: "In proper winter conditions the Swedish Rally is a superb event. It's really exciting to drive flat out on the snow and use the snow banks to help us around the bends. For me, driving in those conditions is something special and this is one of my favourite rallies of the season. Maybe I enjoy it so much because I started my rally career on those types of roads.
Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen: "The weather conditions look good for this year and if it stays like that then I will be happy. We won't have to worry about losing studs because of gravel on the roads. Gravel affects the way we drive. We have to look after our tyres and that means not using the launch control at the start of stages and being careful about how hard we brake and accelerate out of slow corners.
After celebrating its return to world class rallying with a one-two finish on January's Monte Carlo Rally, Citroen Sport has entered two Citroen C4 WRCs for the Swedish Rally. The cars will be driven by Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Marti.
Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena: "When there's a nice, consistent coating of ice for the studs to bite into, then it's ideal. If, on top of that, the stages are lined by snow banks and the sun is shining, it's a fantastic rally; one of my favourites! The picture gets complicated if the ice is covered by snow. The grip then becomes changeable, ruts form and, if you don't keep to them, the studs pick up fresh snow and the car's reactions become brutal and unpleasant. The worse case scenario is mild weather. You've got no snow banks to lean on, everything melts and you end up driving on dirt. When that happens, it's not my favourite event. On the contrary."
Dani Sordo/Marc: "This year, I intend to continue to learn and try to score points for Citroen. Even though the rally was new to me last year, I was able to mix it with the Nordic drivers. With the 2006 event now behind me and the progress represented by the C4 WRC, I believe that if I drive at my own pace, without taking any risks, I can score a good result for Citroen Sport."
The Subaru World Rally Team heads to the snow-bound forest roads of Sweden with the aim of continuing its positive start to the 2007 World Rally Championship. Following the fourth and sixth-place finishes achieved by Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall and Petter Solberg/Phil Mills respectively on Rallye Monte Carlo last month, the team is focusing its efforts on consistent, reliable performances on the back-to-back events in Sweden and Norway.
Petter Solberg/Phil Mills: "It's great to be back on snow again for the next two rallies. Last year we did not have much luck in Sweden, but the year before I won here, so I have some good memories. It was good for the team to have both cars in the points in Monte Carlo last month. I think we can do the same on this rally, but we will have to wait and see exactly what result we are capable of, because there are a lot of good drivers out there. The car is improving all the time, but I will know a lot more after I drive the car during our pre-event test this weekend."
Chris Atkinson/Glen MacNeall: "Despite the great result on Rallye Monte Carlo, I'm keeping my expectations quite cautious ahead of the two snow rallies. We aimed for top six in Monte Carlo and things went our way, so we're aiming for the top five or six for these next two events in Sweden and Norway. If we come away with some more points, I'll be happy. In 2005 Sweden was my first ever rally with the Subaru World Rally Team and I've got fond memories. It's such a fun event."
OMV Kronos Citroen
For the first time this season the OMV Kronos Citroen World Rally Team will compete with two cars at the "Uddeholm Swedish Rally" (February 8 to 11, 2007). Following the solo-show by Manfred Stohl in Monte Carlo the team now gets reinforcements. The second Citroen Xsara WRC of the OMV Kronos Team will be steered by Daniel Carlsson and co-driver Denis Giraudet. The local hero reached third place last year at his home rally. And the fact that Manfred Stohl is in good form makes OMV Kronos Citroen Team Principal Marc Van Dalen confident, as well. He expects a podium place on the coming weekend.
Manfred Stohl/Ilka Minor: "As a matter of principle I really love driving on snow. Unfortunately this has not yet brought in a good final result. But I am convinced that we will be able to compete for points this weekend. The Xsara WRC is definitely competitive. Now it is up to us. And I hope to meet some requited love this time around in Sweden - since I really like this rally very much."
Daniel Carlsson/Denis Giraudet: "I didn't get too many opportunities to test the new car so far. But I am sure that we will get along with the Xsara very well. It is surely an advantage that I will start into the season at my home rally. Yet I am convinced that we will be even stronger barely two weeks from now in Norway. But I definitely plan to fight for a podium place in front of my fans in Sweden. Their support will push me to a peak performance."
Stobart M-Sport Ford
The Stobart VK M-Sport Ford World Rally Team heads to Varmland next week for the Uddeholm Swedish Rally, round two of the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship. Since its induction to the WRC in 1973, only Scandinavian drivers had won the rally, until that trend was broken by Sebastien Loeb in 2004. With Norwegians, Henning Solberg and Cato Menkerud, and Finns Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila on-board, the team will be looking for some positive results on the extremely fast snow and ice covered roads.
Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila: "I am really looking forward to Sweden, snow rallies are normally very good for me and, coming from Finland, I really like driving on snow. I have competed on this rally twice before, but only once in a WRC car. This was 2005 when I used a Corolla and we finished the rally in 15th position. My championship hasn't got off to a good start though and it would be nice to have a good result in Sweden. I have to learn from my accident in Monte Carlo, I want to drive fast in Sweden but also I need to keep a safety margin as well."
Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud: "I have forgotten about Monte Carlo and now I am concentrating on Sweden and Norway. I am really looking forward to Sweden and I intend to push hard from the start, and am aiming for a podium position. Last year I got up as high as fifth position before we had a big roll, and filled the car with snow! I think with this package I have now, with the car and the tyres, I can even improve on this position. There are always many spectators from Norway over at the rally at Sweden and seeing them all with their flags, will really help to push me on and go harder. I can't wait to start the rally."
Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr: "The aim for Sweden is to try and improve my personal performance from last year, I'm not really aiming for a specific result. I was happy with how Monte Carlo went as I was much closer to the winner in terms of seconds per kilometre than last year and this is what I want to concentrate on for 2007. It makes more sense to try and reach a high performance level, get closer to the drivers at the top, than aim for a specific finishing position on each event. For sure I will benefit from Henning's help with these snow events and I know I can get some advice from him on car set-up for both Sweden and Norway. We had a fairly clean run in Sweden last year and I really want to concentrate on improving my pace and consistency."
The Munchi's Ford World Rally Team begins its WRC campaign next week at the Uddeholm Swedish Rally. Argentinean drivers Luis Perez Companc and Juan Pablo Raies will head the M-Sport run team, competing in ten rounds of the 2007 championship. Both drivers are extremely excited about the opportunity they have this year and will be looking to gain valuable experience as well as positive results throughout. The team will be driving last year's winning car in the Manufacturers' Championship - Ford Focus RS WRC 06 - and with three Argentinean Championships between them, the pair will add extra firepower to the Ford company artillery.
Luis Perez-Companc/J.M. Volta: "The Focus WRC 06 is a fantastic car to drive and the few events I drove it last year, it left me with such a good feeling that I am really looking forward to driving it again this season. The expectations are big this year because we have entered a team in the championship and the idea will be to try and score as many points as possible. For Sweden, I am much more confident than last year, it was important to build up the experience and hopefully this year we should be faster. I'm really looking forward to Argentina, especially this year because the start will be in Buenos Aires."
Juan Pablo Raies/J. Perez Companc: "This year is going to be a big challenge and I have prepared myself for it, so I hope to do as good a job as possible. It is going to be a long season with nine new rallies for me, so my aim is to try and finish all of them. I want to gain lots of experience on each of the events, so if I have the chance to return in the future I will have better knowledge and notes. I had the opportunity to test the car in mid-December in Cumbria and it was fantastic the way it performed, I'm really looking forward to driving it. To finish the rally in Sweden would be great for me, I have been getting some coaching and hope to apply it to the rally next week, my first on snow!"