Citroen made the perfect start to its first assault on the entire FIA World Rally Championship, winning the Monte Carlo Rally just under two weeks ago. Sebastien Loeb brought his Xsara WRC home first, with team-mates Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz...
Citroen made the perfect start to its first assault on the entire FIA World Rally Championship, winning the Monte Carlo Rally just under two weeks ago. Sebastien Loeb brought his Xsara WRC home first, with team-mates Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz in close attendance. Team boss Guy Frequelin knows that the largely asphalt stages crossing the French Alps bear little resemblance to the frozen Swedish tracks which lie in wait for his drivers over the next three days.
While none of the Citroen drivers have won the Swedish, Sainz has an enviable points-scoring record here, having made the podium on each of the six occasions that he's finished.
Peugeot has monopolised the top step of the podium in Sweden for the last three years, with Marcus Gronholm taking two wins and Harri Rovanpera one. The 206 WRCs are highly likely to feature at the front of the field this time around, with Briton Richard Burns keen to end the Scandinavian dominance of this rally.
Ford's 2003 season got off to a promising start in Monte Carlo, with the Blue Oval being rewarded for its efforts with an early second place in the manufacturer's standings. Markko Martin was fourth on round one, but admits he feels more at home among the snowfields of Sweden.
The Uddeholm Swedish Rally is also the first round of this year's FIA Production Cup. Reigning champion Karamjit Singh begins his title defence at the wheel of his Proton Pert.
Citroen Total (1st - 18 points)
Technical: Citroen has redesigned the air intake system on the Xsara WRC following problems with snow clogging the intake on last year's event. Otherwise the three cars are the same as in Monte Carlo.
Sporting: Citroen arrives in Karlstad on a real high after taking a clean sweep in Monte Carlo. Despite the experience of Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae, Citroen remains short of mileage on this highly specialised rally. The Xsara WRC was used for the first time in Sweden last year and Thomas Radstrom did manage one fastest time for the French team. Sebastien Loeb will run first on the road tomorrow courtesy of the Frenchman's status as leader of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Colin McRae said: "Monte Carlo was a fantastic result for the team, but it would be unrealistic to expect the same here. The weather turning cold is really good news. Sweden like this can be the best rally in the world, but if the snow melts it can be among the worst."
Sebastien Loeb said: "I'm hoping to be able to compete against Colin and Carlos, but with their experience that's going to be tough. I've got a good feeling with the car, so we'll just have to see what I can do."
Carlos Sainz said: "This is my first time in Sweden with this car, so all of the time I am learning about what it can do. I have a good record here, though and it's an event I enjoy, so let's see what I can get."
Ford Motor Company (2nd - 10 points)
Technical: All three Focus RS WRC02s remain in similar specification to last month's Monte Carlo Rally. At the pre-rally shakedown Markko Martin tested a different set-up aimed at dealing with the ruts which will appear on the second run at the stages. Because of its switch from Pirelli to Michelin tyres, Ford has spent a total of ten days testing for this rally.
Sporting: Markko Martin will be looking to build on his fourth place in Monte Carlo and eclipse the Estonian's miserable Swedish Rally of 12 months ago, when he failed to take the start of the rally after crashing at the pre-event shakedown. Martin is backed up by Belgian François Duval, who tackled the Swedish Rally in a Ford Focus RS WRC for the first time in 2002. He finished tenth last season. Mikko Hirvonen starts his second FIA World Rally Championship round for Ford. The 22-year-old Finn rolled on round one, but says he's looking forward to Sweden where he will be more familiar with conditions.
Markko Martin said: "What happened on the shakedown here last year will not affect me at all. Okay there are a couple of stages which will be new for me, but that's not going to be a big problem."
François Duval said: "There will be more drivers in Sweden in World Rally Cars than there were in Monte Carlo, so the competition will be much tougher. The local drivers here have a big advantage, if I could match my result in Monte Carlo, I would be happy."
Mikko Hirvonen said: "There are three winter rallies in the Finnish Championship, so I am used to these conditions. I've been given a free choice to drive on how I drive this rally, but after my accident on the first round I just want to finish.
Marlboro Peugeot Total (3rd - 6 points)
Technical: None of the Peugeot 206 WRCs will be running the active anti-roll bar system on this event, otherwise they are similar to Monte Carlo. All three 206 WRCs are brand new.
Sporting: Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera start among the favourites for this rally, both having won it in the last two years - and indeed ended the rally first and second 12 months ago. This will be Rovanpera's first outing of the season as the Finn missed Monte Carlo. Gronholm led throughout the opening leg of round one, only to damage his suspension mid-way through the second day. Richard Burns was the top Peugeot finisher in Monte Carlo, taking fifth. The 2001 world champion admitted he could have made the podium had it not been for a disastrous tyre choice on leg two. Burns was fourth here last season.
Marcus Gronholm said: "I'm running further back on the road for the first day here, that could be an advantage for me - especially if it snows. I feel quite confident for this rally, but there's so much that can happen."
Richard Burns said: "I like this rally significantly more than I liked Monte Carlo; it's such a nice feeling drifting the car in top gear. I could win this rally, but to do that I will have to be driving at my best on every stage.
Harri Rovanpera said: "I doesn't bother me that I haven't driven competitively this year. I did a day and a half testing last month for this rally and that was enough for me to get the feeling in the car."
Hyundai World Rally Team (4th - 3 points)
Technical: The three Accents remain unchanged from the first round, save for a set-up more compatible with the snowy stages. The team has done no local testing for this event and is relying on data logged last year when it was using a previous evolution of the car.
Sporting: This is the first round on which Hyundai World Rally Team has entered three cars. Finnish driver Jussi Valimaki joins regular pilots Armin Schwarz and Freddy Loix. Valimaki tackled the Arctic Rally in northern Finland last month, driving the same Accent he uses in the world championship for the first time here in Sweden. Valimaki's run on the Arctic was ended when he collided with a reindeer three stages from the end.
Armin Schwarz said: "Monte Carlo was difficult for us at times, but we ran well and scored points. I would like to do the same here. This is an amazing rally, the speeds you can carry through the corners is astonishing."
Freddy Loix said: "Last year this rally was fantastic for me, I was in fourth position for a long time - despite my broken foot. I would love to have a similar event this year. This is a very special rally and one that I love driving on."
Jussi Valimaki said: "The car is running in the same specification as I had it on the Arctic Rally. The roads we used on that even are pretty similar to those here, so that was very good experience for me."
Skoda Motorsport (5th - 2 points)
Technical: The Skoda team has traced the problem, which sidelined Toni Gardemeister's Skoda Ovctavia WRC in Monte Carlo, to a blocked fuel injector. The specification of both cars (which we're both used on last year's Rally New Zealand) remains largely unchanged from round one.
Sporting: Didier Auriol and Toni Gardemeister both rate this event among their favourites and the two Octavia WRC drivers see this event as a good opportunity to score points. Gardemeister is a little short on competitive action, as the Finn's season had barely got underway before the engine on his Skoda failed on the second stage in Monte Carlo.
Didier Auriol said: "I've changed a few things on the car at shakedown and it feels okay. We have to remember that we are here to fight with Armin Schwarz and Freddy Loix, we're not here to battle for the win.
Toni Gardemeister said: "My car feels very good, we've had no problems in testing or at the shakedown. We've gone well here in the past and I hope we can do again this weekend.
555 Subaru World Rally Team(6th -0 points)
Technical: This is the first Uddeholm Swedish Rally for the new shape Subaru Impreza WRC2003. Both Petter Solberg and Tommi Makinen spent time finalising their transmission set-up at the shakedown, before moving on to stud-retention work. Both drivers have brand new Impreza WRC2003s.
Sporting: Neither Solberg or Makinen made it through the opening leg of the Monte Carlo Rally, both sliding off the road on the fifth stage. Makinen has won this event three times before, while Solberg's best result is a sixth place in 2001.
Petter Solberg said: "I have so many fans here, it's going to be fantastic to see all of the flags flying!"
Tommi Makinen said: "The problem with going out quite early in Monte Carlo was that we didn't see just how good the car could be. Everybody in the team feels this is a good step forward from last season, but tomorrow we will try top find out again."
This event has attracted a whole host of top privateer drivers, with Finland's Janne Tuohino leading the charge in his 2002-specification Ford Focus RS WRC. Tomasz Kuchar, Jari Viita and Anton Warmbold are also in similar machinery, while Roman Kresta and Juuso Pykalisto will drive 206 WRCs.
Karamjit Singh (Proton), Toshi Arai (Subaru) and Martin Rowe (Subaru) lead the Production Cup field away.