The inhospitable weather offered by a Scandinavian winter provides the Ford Martini team with the opportunity to capitalise on its impressive opening to the FIA World Rally Championship last month. While the setting of the Swedish Rally (8 - 11...
The inhospitable weather offered by a Scandinavian winter provides the Ford Martini team with the opportunity to capitalise on its impressive opening to the FIA World Rally Championship last month. While the setting of the Swedish Rally (8 - 11 February) will be far removed from the glamour of Monaco, the conditions encountered at the series' most northerly outpost will bear many of the hallmarks of the Monte Carlo Rally.
The outcome in Sweden could depend just as much on the weather and tyre selection as it did on the French classic. While deep and fresh snow on the championship's only true all-winter rally is far from guaranteed, below freezing temperatures will ensure ice is in abundance across the barren Nordic landscape.
They were conditions on which Ford Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya prospered in Monte Carlo, the double world champions powering their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to second place. With team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist leading for much of the rally before a last day retirement and the third Focus of François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup taking the final podium place, it was a highly satisfactory opening to the 2001 campaign.
"It was a good start for us and it's important that we maintain that momentum in Sweden," said 38-year-old Sainz. "We tested in Sweden before Christmas when Pirelli introduced some improvements to their snow tyres which worked well. We have another test scheduled before the rally which will give us the opportunity to carry out more work in the snow. It's by testing like this that we can fine tune our performance."
It is one of rallying's most frequently stated facts that no driver from outside the Nordic countries has ever won the Swedish Rally in its 50 year history. But Sainz has come closer than anyone, having finished second four times from 1996 to 1999. "I like the rally very much and with the improvements we've made I hope I can be the person to end that record," added Sainz.
The Swedish Rally is also a firm favourite of McRae. In 1987 it was his first world championship event and the high speeds offered by the fast and flowing roads and incredible grip from studded tyres have created a favourable impression on the 32-year-old Scot over the years.
"The weather is the most unpredictable factor in Sweden," he said. "If it stays cold we'll get plenty of snow and then I think all the drivers will be happy. In those conditions, the effect of studded tyres is incredible and the speeds are remarkably fast. The rally cars handle superbly and are enormous fun to drive in the snow.
"Full snow also ensures proper snow banks and one of the nice things about Sweden is that you can often get away with making a mistake because they help keep the car on the road. As a result you can attack hard and use the snow to your advantage," added McRae.
Delecour is another fan of Sweden. "If there's sufficient snow you can drive very fast but when there's not enough it becomes very difficult. To many people it's a surprise when they hear a driver saying that more snow provides better conditions but it's true. The grip provided by the studs is incredible and I enjoy competing in those conditions very much," said the Frenchman.
Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson looks forward to the rally with confidence. "The performance of our three Focus cars in Monte Carlo was excellent and that bodes well for Sweden. We've worked very hard with Pirelli to adapt their tyres to the Focus and I believe those efforts will pay off on the rally. I'm not alone in hoping that there is plenty of snow because in those conditions the drivers can really attack."
Challenge of the Swedish Rally
As with the Monte Carlo Rally, the challenge in Sweden relates to tyres. But here the crucial factor concerns the studs used to bite into the ice more than the choice of rubber. Monte Carlo and Sweden are the only championship rallies where studded tyres are authorised but the harsher conditions in Scandinavia require longer and more robust studs. There is no limit as to how far the studs can protrude from the tread and each tyre can contain up to 380 tungsten-tipped studs.
The major decisions facing the Ford Martini drivers and tyre partner Pirelli relate to stud selection. The ideal choice will cut into the frozen surface to provide perfect grip. Too short a stud will not bite into the ice, causing the car to slide. Too long a stud will reach through the ice into the gravel beneath, damaging the tips or in extreme cases ripping the studs from the tyres.
Each time a stud hits the ice, huge forces are produced and ensuring they remain firmly anchored to the flexible rubber tread blocks is no easy task. To reduce the chance of losing studs, Pirelli has undertaken much development work and the success of this operation can make all the difference between winning and losing.
Although the rally remains based in Karlstad, the stages have been moved further north in an attempt to ensure more snow. The rally begins with a ceremonial start in the town on Thursday evening, during which the drivers cover just 700 metres. The opening leg continues the next day with six stages based around Torsby, including the daunting 49.36km Granberget, the longest of the rally. However, the traditional test on the frozen lake at Torsby, shortened due to poor conditions in recent years, has been scrapped. The second leg takes competitors further east for six stages around Grangesberg before the final leg, comprising five tests, is centred on Hagfors, between Torsby and Grangesberg. Drivers will tackle 17 stages in total, covering 380.62km in a route of 1924.97km.
<pre> SWEDISH RALLY
ROUND 2 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 8 - 11 FEBRUARY 2001
Thursday 8 February: Leg 1 Karlstad - Karlstad Start Karlstad 19.00 Finish Karlstad 19.10 Friday 9 February: Leg 1 (cont.) Karlstad - Karlstad Start Karlstad 07.00 SS1 Bjälverud 20.74km 09.09 SS2 Lönnhöjden 18.82km 09.36 SS3 Bogen 12.78km 10.27 SS4 Granberget 49.36km 13.06 SS5 Torntorp 20.38km 15.38 SS6 Sägfallet 26.48km 16.22 Finish Karlstad 19.27 Total 148.56km
Saturday 10 February: Leg 2 Karlstad - Karlstad Start Karlstad 07.00 SS7 Kullen 26.61km 10.04 SS8 Nyhammar 1 27.79km 10.45 SS9 Fredriksberg 34.53km 13.28 SS10 Silkesberg 15.33km 14.18 SS11 Nyhammar 2 27.79km 15.49 SS12 Lugnet 2.00km 17.20 Finish Karlstad 21.57 Total 134.05km
Sunday 11 February: Leg 3 Karlstad - Karlstad Start Karlstad 06.30 SS13 Sägen 1 14.99km 08.46 SS14 Rämmen 1 23.41km 09.39 SS15 Sägen 2 14.99km 11.31 SS16 Rämmen 2 23.41km 12.24 SS17 Hagfors 21.21km 14.05 Finish Karlstad 16.09 Total 98.01km
Rally total 380.62km