The Swedish fixture offers a unique challenge but the compacted ice and snow also offer a surprising level of traction.
M-Sport World Rally Team’s Elfyn Evans and Ott Tänak will tackle another specialist event next week as the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) ventures to Rally Sweden. The team will be hoping for a classic snow rally in which their young charges can make the most of what could be an advantageous road position.
As the only full-snow event on the calendar, the Swedish fixture offers a unique challenge but the compacted ice and snow also offer a surprising level of traction. As the tungsten-tipped steel studs of Michelin’s X-ICE NORTH 2 tyres bite through the soft snow to capture grip on the hard ice below, the EcoBoost powered Ford Fiesta RS WRCs can reach tremendous speeds making this wintery event one of the fastest rallies of the year.
There is however a real art to driving on snow. The grip may be higher than expected, but the crews are still required to adapt their driving style – selecting different braking points, driving within the ‘lines’ and guiding their cars through corners by leaning on hard-packed snow banks.
The feeling isn’t a million miles away from driving on gravel, but there are certain techniques that are very specific to driving on snow.
The Swedish winter can also affect the outcome and optimum road position significantly. Following a harsh winter with recent snowfall, the cars ahead are forced to sweep the road which allows those behind to better capture grip on the ice below. But following a milder winter, gravel starts to appear through the ice which puts those further down the field at a disadvantage – the exposed gravel damaging the studs which can result in a considerable loss of traction.
Scandinavian drivers have historically prospered at this event – their knowledge of winter rallies providing an advantage. By contrast, next weekend will mark only the second ever snow rally for Evans who hasn’t had a lot of down time since the previous outing in Monte-Carlo. Between meeting the Redbull UK family – including mountain biker Danny Macaskill – and conducting a two-day test ahead of the Swedish event, Evans has also been instrumental in the testing and development of the new-evolution Fiesta RS WRC.
The Welshman made his winter debut behind the wheel of the top-specification Fiesta last year and, despite retiring on the final stage, he and co-driver Daniel Barritt gained good experience of the route. Combining that experience with the wealth of knowledge gained at their pre-event test, the pairing will be looking to improve both their speed and performance next week.
Tänak has just one more year of experience, but the Estonian is somewhat more confident on snow. Making a celebrated comeback to the WRC last year, he and co-driver Raigo Mõlder were running as high as third overall and finished in an impressive fifth place.
In fact the Estonians’ impressive performances of late warranted a visit to the Estonian Prime Minister. Tänak and Mõlder were amongst a number of their compatriots invited to visit the head of state in celebration of the country’s budding motorsport prospects.
Despite his recent recognition, Tänak won’t be going all out for the podium next week. The Estonian will focus on his own event, but his speed and potential mean that he should not be ruled out of a strong result – no more so following a successful two-day test in the lead-up to the event.
Elfyn Evans said: “I haven’t got a massive amount of experience on snow, but I do enjoy it. It’s unique and different – a new challenge – and I think that’s what I like about coming back here; even if I’m not a massive fan of the cold!
“There’s something of a score to settle after last year and I really want to finish this event. We made a fairly solid start 12 months ago, but there was a lot of scope for improvement. Our priority will be to ensure that we show that improvement and do the best job we can.
“The driving style that you need to adapt here is different to any other round. The feeling isn’t a million miles away from driving on gravel, but there are certain techniques that are very specific to driving on snow. We’ve not mastered them all yet, but we’re working on it!
“One of the challenges of this event can be vision. When there is fresh snow everything is white and that makes it particularly difficult to read the road ahead. The conditions can also be quite changeable. If there is a good ice base then the grip levels are fairly high, but sometimes it can be variable which is really tough for the drivers.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge and I can’t wait to get out there and hopefully show a marked improvement from last year.”
Ott Tänak said: “I’ve only done this rally twice before so I am not as experienced as some of the other drivers, but it is definitely one of my favourite events in the championship. The stages are so fast and flowing and really smooth so it’s always a lot of fun to drive in Sweden.
“We aim to have a clean, fast run and to most importantly enjoy it. The conditions look really nice at the moment so I hope that it stays like this. I think the key is to have a good test and get a good feeling before the rally. If we can be relaxed and get into a good rhythm early on then it could be a good event for us.
“The snow banks can provide quite a lot of support – although you have to be careful not to lean too hard – and there is also a lot of grip from the studded tyres. But the lines are very narrow and that’s arguably the most difficult part. You need to make sure that you stay in the lines and go with the flow because if you find yourself on fresh snow, outside of those lines, it’s really slippery.
“I’m really looking forward to next week. It’s a real adrenaline rush driving these fast stages and I can’t wait to get out there and have some fun!”
Additional M-Sport Drivers
Eight Ford Fiesta RS WRCs have been entered alongside three Ford Fiesta RRCs, eight Ford Fiesta R5s and one Ford Fiesta S2000.
Joining Evans and Tänak in the M-Sport service area are Henning Solberg, Yuriy Protasov and local hero Pontus Tidemand.
Piloting a Fiesta RS WRC Solberg is a welcome sight at any FIA World Rally Championship event, but the Norwegian will be accompanied by his loyal band of supporters next week and could well spring a few surprises having claimed a stage win with the top-specification Fiesta last year.
Protasov also makes a welcome return to the Fiesta RS WRC. The Ukrainian will be looking to develop his skills further – challenging for a top-ten position in the process.
Finally, Värmland resident Tidemand kick starts his WRC 2 campaign behind the wheel of an M-Sport prepared Fiesta RRC. The Swede has the speed and talent to challenge for victory on all surfaces but, with the home crowd behind him, he could well produce something special next week.