Sweden: Michelin preview

Round 2: Swedish Rally (February 1st-3rd 2002) Although January's Monte Carlo Rally proved its ability to stage a quality show despite a distinct lack of wintry conditions, the prospect of a Swedish Rally with neither snow nor ice is a...

Round 2: Swedish Rally (February 1st-3rd 2002)

Although January's Monte Carlo Rally proved its ability to stage a quality show despite a distinct lack of wintry conditions, the prospect of a Swedish Rally with neither snow nor ice is a bit like serving strawberries without cream. The recent snowflakes and icy temperatures reported from Karlstad these past few days have been understandably welcomed therefore, not only by competitors but also by the hoards of spectators who make the annual trek to the Värmland's snowbound forests. For in addition to its unique backdrop, Sweden is one of the most spectacular and fastest rounds of the calendar, a remarkable feat on this terrain given the difficulty pedestrians sometimes encounter merely keeping on their feet!

Whatever the outcome of the 51st Swedish Rally, one word is sure to apply: 'exploit'. For one, it will be an undeniable exploit should Peugeot-Michelin succeed in clocking up its third consecutive triumph on this highly specific event. Yet at the same time, given the strength of the French team's line-up, which includes the past two World Champions and the past two Swedish Rally winners, it will be nothing short of an exploit should ever one of its rivals clinch number one spot next Sunday afternoon.

And what if 2002 was the year that the celebrated monopoly of the Scandinavian drivers on home ground was broken at last? A long list of contenders from Europe's more southerly climes all dream of being the one to finally shatter the stranglehold of the Swedes and neighbouring Finns on their jealously guarded hunting ground. And the day that happens, 'exploit' is sure to be the most frequently encountered word in the reports of those who will be able to say "I was there...".

Meanwhile, added interest will surely come from the combat opposing such hardened campaigners as Juha Kankkunen (Hyundai-Michelin) or Stig Blomqvist (Skoda-Michelin) and up-and-coming youngsters like Jani Paasonen (Mitsubishi-Michelin) and Sébastien Loeb (Citroën-Michelin), both rookies of this event at the wheel of a nominated WRC car? Whether age wins over youth, or whether young blood gains the upper-hand over experience, in this domain too use of the word exploit will surely be justified.

At the end of the day, however, the Swedish Rally is simply confirmation that the special cocktail of spectacular backdrop, exciting cars, demanding stages and an entry of top drivers all out to prove they are the next World Champion remains the key to world rallying's continuing popular appeal.

On the technical front

Studs are undeniably stars of the snow on the Swedish Rally. There are more than 1,500 of these tiny metal components on each car as they launch into the icy stages. To win, the trick is to ensure they are all still in place when they reach the following stop control. Over the years, Michelin's tyre/stud package has carved out an eloquent track record on the winter classic. Today, in an exclusive interview, one of the studs competing this weekend has accepted - in all modesty - to talk about its role in the Värmland.

"Don't ask me for details of the gluing process. Shhh... Top secret!"

Perhaps you could start by introducing yourself...
"Of course. I'm basically a metal cylinder machined from specially treated steel. For added resistance, my tip is made from tungsten. By my weight and dimensions, you can see I specialise in the Swedish Rally. My Monte Carlo counterparts are noticeably smaller since they have to comply with French road traffic regulations. As for me, the Swedish authorities allow me to be longer and wider to enable me to bite deep into the region's icebound gravel lanes."

What exactly is your mission on this rally?
"For a start, despite our modest size, it's my fellow studs and I who hold up the car. At a standstill, the tyres don't even touch the ground. There are even some who suggest the tread blocks are only there to provide a home for we studs. It's a nice thought, but the reality is obviously much more complex than that. No, our key mission is to ensure a level of grip that will allow the cars to travel at breathtaking speeds over roads that humans find it hard to stay upright on!"

That's some responsibility.
"Absolutely. Just listen to this: on the stages, I hit the ground some 500 times every kilometre. And at 120kph, my tip strikes the ice - which is as hard as concrete at that sort of speed - around 17 times per second! The energy generated on each impact exceeds 1kW. Not bad for my size, aye? And to think I only weigh a few grams! Having said that, I need to be carefully designed and solidly anchored into the tyre to stay the distance over groups of stages that can be up to 51km in length. Just the thought makes me shiver... and not because of the cold!"

It sounds like you have to get along well with your tyre...
"Given the huge forces involved, you're not kidding! Even though we will be used only once, my colleagues and I have every intention of fulfilling our mission to the end, right up to the last metre of the final stage we are called to cover. Our predecessors have taken Michelin's partners to no fewer than 20 wins over the last 22 Swedish rallies. That's a record we are all very proud of and we shall all be out to do our best to improve on that score this weekend.

"To do that, as I say, we have to be perfectly anchored in the tread blocks that host us. As you probably know, the marriage between metal and rubber is not a natural one. Yet it is the quality of this bond that will dictate the quality of our performance and that bond depends on three things: the design of our base, the method used to insert us into the tyre and the quality of the adhesive employed to glue us in place."

Sounds like a highly specialised job...
"You can say that again. For a number of years now, Michelin has worked with Swedish specialist Däcksproffen when it comes to studding its tyres. I must say they looked after me exceptionally well, but don't count on me to reveal any details of the gluing process. Shhh... Top secret! Sorry, I have to go now. If I understand the language of humans correctly, I believe they're coming to get me to put me on the car. It's been nice chatting, but duty calls. Oh, just one last thing: spare a thought for me when you watch me flash past on the stage. I at least won't be suffering from the cold. You'll be able to see that from all the sparks flying up as I hit the stones embedded in the frozen track!"

Michelin has a total staff of 28 for the Swedish Rally. The total number of covers available for the event is 2,270 carried in 7 semi-trailer workshops. All are fitted with Michelin's ATS system (Appui Temporaire Souple).

The 2002 Swedish Rally stays with its now traditional format of three loops through the snowy forests and farmland to the north of Karlstad. After a ceremonial start in the Värmland capital's main square on the Thursday evening, competitors face a daily round-trip from the city to the event's sole service halt in the small town of Hagfors. It's from here they will set off for the weekend's 16 stages (5 each on Legs 1 and 3; 6 on Leg 2). Recce has been facilitated inasmuch as there will be only 10 different tests to note. Last year's Swedish Rally, run in textbook sub-zero temperatures, was voted Rally of the Year 2001.

Recent Swedish Rally winners:
2001 Rovanperä / Pietilainen (Peugeot-Michelin)
2000 Grönholm / Rautiainen (Peugeot-Michelin)
1999 Mäkinen / Mannisenmäki (Mitsubishi-Michelin)
1998 Mäkinen / Mannisenmäki (Mitsubishi-Michelin)
1997 Eriksson / Parmander (Subaru-Pirelli)
1996 Mäkinen / Harjanne (Mitsubishi-Michelin)
1995 Eriksson / Parmander (Mitsubishi-Michelin)
1994 Radström / Backman (Toyota-Michelin) *
1993 Jonsson / Backman (Toyota-Michelin)
1992 Jonsson / Backman (Toyota-Michelin)
(*2-litre championship only)

2002 Calendar: MC (Monte Carlo, 18-20/1), S (Sweden, 1-3/2), F (Tour of Corsica, 8-10/3), E (Catalonia, 22- 24/3), CY (Cyprus, 19-21/4), RA (Argentina, 16-19/5), GR (Acropolis, 14-16/6), EAK (Safari, 12-14/7), FIN (Finland, 8-11/8), D (Deutschland, 23 -25/8), I (Sanremo, 20-22/9), NZ (New Zealand, 4-6/10), AUS (Australia, 31/10-3/11), GB (Great Britain, 14-17/11).

-michelin- fischq: not found

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Sébastien Loeb , Juha Kankkunen
Teams Citroën World Rally Team