WRC

Swedish Rally: Round two preview, fast facts

The FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) moves from the glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo to the snow-covered scenery of Scandinavia for the second of the 16-round series, the Swedish Rally. Starting on Thursday 5 February from its base in the ...

The FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) moves from the glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo to the snow-covered scenery of Scandinavia for the second of the 16-round series, the Swedish Rally. Starting on Thursday 5 February from its base in the university town of Karlstad, the event is the only true winter rally in the WRC.

While it's not uncommon for crews to compete in temperatures as low as -30°C, full snow conditions on the event's 19 stages are by no means guaranteed. In recent years mild conditions have presented teams with a challenging mixture of road surfaces, with everything from hard-packed snow, ice and sections of frozen gravel. As a result, this year's event is moving further north in an attempt to find more consistent snow conditions.

Like Monte Carlo, the Swedish rally is a specialist event, which favours drivers with experience of the unique conditions. Totally unlike any others in the WRC, the snow covered Swedish stages have to be approached in a different way to the more typical WRC tarmac or gravel stages. Local knowledge counts for a lot, and it's telling that since the rally was first run in 1950, it has been won exclusively by Swedes and Finns.

Experts at 'leaning' their cars against snow banks to guide them round corners, previous winners of this demanding event have been highly skilled at driving on studded tyres at very high speeds. Last year, with an average speed of 118kph, the Swedish rally was the second-fastest of the season. Only Finland, with an average of 122kph was quicker. To cope with the snow conditions, both Subaru drivers will be using slim Pirelli tyres fitted with tungsten carbide tipped studs to help bite through the loose snow and get maximum traction.

Following a ceremonial start in Karlstad on Thursday evening, the rally begins in earnest on Friday morning when crews travel 85km north to the town of Hagfors and the central service area. On Leg One they will tackle five stages, including Granberget, which at 52 kilometres is the longest of the event. Saturday will see the drivers contest a further eight stages, before the final six tests on Sunday. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp back in Karlstad at 1638hrs on Sunday.

Ford

The BP Ford Rally Team come into this event leading the manufacturers World Rally Championship and for this event field Markko Martin and Finland's Janne Tuohino as their registered drivers. Francios Duval also competes in a latest specification Ford Focus '03 WRC. Duval, not registered for points, finished 10th in 2002 while Markko fourth, Tuohino 17th.

Markko Martin / Michael Park: Apologies for the lack of quotes.
Janne Tuohino / J Aho: Apologies for the lack of quotes.

Citroen

Citroën's preparation for the second outing of the season included two test sessions in Sweden. The first took place during the third week of December and saw Sébastien Loeb and Carlos Sainz take turns at the wheel at a base near Arjeplog, on the southern fringe of the Arctic Circle. For the second session, near Umea, in the third week of January, the pair was joined by Philippe Bugalski, their work focusing on optimisation of the Xsara WRC's set-up (springs, antiroll bars, differentials). The programme also allowed the drivers to acquaint themselves with the latest evolution 'GA' and 'GE' tyres that make up Michelin's range for Sweden.

Sebastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: "It's a great rally from the driver's viewpoint," says Sébastien Loeb. "To have the best chance of coming away with a top result, I just hope that the stage conditions won't be as cruel to me as they were last year because I'll be first on the road again on Day 1. You've also got to remember that Marcus Grönholm, to mention but him, isn't going to be easy to beat on what is one of his favourite terrains. On the other hand, we posted a fastest time last year, plus two second bests and four third fastest times. When the conditions were not unfavourable to us, we were on the pace. So given that the Xsara has unquestionably progressed, I hope I will be involved in the fight for first place. If I am, anything is possible!"

Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: "I would dearly love to win this rally.. First of all, the first 'Latin' to beat the Scandinavians in Sweden will make rallying history. Nobody has succeeded in doing it so far. It's also one of my favourite rallies. I always prepare for it with great care and then I do my best to win once it starts. Last but not least, driving in Sweden is undeniably one of the biggest thrills you can imagine!"

Peugeot

After its encouraging result in Monte Carlo with the new 307, Peugeot Sport turns its attention now to Round 2 of the 2004 World Rally Championship in Sweden. The French squad has only excellent memories of this spectacular, high-speed event where it is unbeaten since 2000! Marcus Grönholm, the man who notched up three of the Peugeot 206 WRC's four successes in Karlstad, will be looking to add to his personal harvest of victories with the 307 WRC. The car is still in its early days yet it has already given glimpses of its potential. Freddy Loix, another big Swedish Rally fan, will also be aiming for a top result in the second encounter of the season.

Marcus Gronholm / Timo Rautiainen: "I do enjoy this rally... I have a good feeling in Sweden, even if the stages are rather quick in places. Our result in Monte Carlo was quite encouraging. It allowed us to see that the 307 WRC is both competitive and reliable. Judging by the way our pre-event testing went, I am very optimistic for Sweden."

Freddy Loix / Sven Smeets: "For me, it's the best event on the calendar. It really is superb for drivers and I'm very much looking forward to this year's rally. Pre-event testing with the 307 went very well and I feel quite confident,"

Mitsubishi

The all-French crew of Gilles and Hervé Panizzi will be joined by Finns Kristian Sohlberg and Kaj Lindström, and the team's focus will be to build on its successful debut performance in Monte-Carlo.

Gilles Panizzi / Hervé Panizzi: "For me, I have less experience in this rally because I have only done it one time... Sweden is too close for any further development and it's difficult for the engineers to improve the car or to adapt to different solutions for this event. I think if we can finish the Monte, we can finish the Swedish Rally though. I will be looking to Kristian for his very good experience in this rally and I hope we can do the maximum of kilometres to learn even more.

Kristian Sohlberg / Kaj Lindström: "I'm looking forward to the rally as you might say it's my first event as a real works driver... We are still lacking time with testing but we were all very pleased to see Gilles get the car to the finish in Monte-Carlo and claim points. This is good for everyone and helps the engineers gain more data for the on-going development work. Our objective in Sweden will be to go for the finish and of course it is a good event for me to start with the team. If the car works as we hope, I think we can do some decent times and maybe surprise a few people in some stages.

Subaru

Petter Solberg, the current World Champion has contested the event five times previously. Having finished in the points last year, and with experience of winter competition gained in his native Norway, Solberg is looking to improve on his best Sweden finish of sixth. Driving the second Subaru entry will be Finnish driver, Mikko Hirvonen. Having finished eleventh last year on his first attempt at the Swedish event, the Finn will be aiming to finish in the top ten and gain further experience in an Impreza WRC.

Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "I've stopped thinking about Monte Carlo already. It was good to have got some points in the bag, but my focus is Sweden now - 100 per cent - and I'm really looking forward to it. It's the closet event to my home country and so there's going to be a hell of a lot of Norwegians there, even more than there were in Monte I think! It's going to be an interesting event, the Sweden test went well and I think I've worked out why I didn't do so well last year - but I'm not saying just yet! We have an improved tyre for this rally and the setting of the car has been changed, I think it'll be a good event."

Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: "Monte Carlo was good for me. I gained so much from the event, got to know all the people in the team and saw how it all worked. The atmosphere in the Subaru service area felt good and that will definitely make it easier for me from now on. I'm learning all the time about the car, picking up small things about how it handles on ice, snow and tarmac etc. and that is building my confidence. It's a case of the car becoming part of you and I'm definitely feeling part of the car now, so it's good. I finished the Sweden rally in eleventh position last year, and coming from nearby Finland I'm used to driving in snowy conditions. We'll have to see what happens. I'm not thinking about the result so much, but I'm going to push, try to do as well as I can and get some points for the team."

Production WRC

The group N category in the Rally Swedish will see the toughest group N battle in the history of this event. And this even though the group N category always saw one of the strongest battles in the Swedish event year in, year out. In 2004 there are as many as 43 participants including drivers as Toshi Arai, who came second in the PWRC last year, Daniel Sola, Karamjit Singh, Mark Higgins, Alister Mc Rae & Jani Paasonen both WRC driver 2002 in Mitsubishi, Manfred Stohl, Oscar Svedlund winner group N in GB 2002 and Sweden driver Kenneth Bäcklund winner of group N in Rally Sweden five times. So Stig Blomqvist, who won his first Swedish rally no less than 33(!) years ago, will have a rough time to defend his group N victory last year in this company.

Rally Facts and Figures

- Swedish time is GMT + 1, as in mainland Europe.

- First organised in 1950, the Swedish Rally has been a winter fixture since 1965. Since 1967, it has started and finished in Karlstad, a university town in the centre of the country, located on the northern shore of Lake Vänern.

- Rally action itself takes place in the Hagfors region which is situated about 100 km north of Karlstad. The rally's sole service park will be set up on the aerodrome, to the west of Hagfors.

- The total length of the 53rd Swedish Rally's route is 1981.68 km, of which 394.80 km is divided into nineteen special stages (12 different tests).

- Recce takes place on Tuesday February 3rd and Wednesday February 4th (from 8:00 until 18:00).

- The shakedown stage is 'Radar', situated 5 km south of the Hagfors service park (Thursday February 5th, from 08:00 until 12:00). The stage is 4 km long and identical to that of 2003, although this time run in the opposite direction.

- The total length of the first leg is 702.75 km, including 145.80 km in special stages. Starting from Karlstad at 06:30 on Friday February 6th, the day features five stages, split into three 'groups': 'Lidsbron'/'Torntorp', 'Granberget 1' (the length of which has been increased to 52.57 km), 'Granberget 2'/'Hagfors Sprint 1 Super special'. Crews return to Karlstad from 19:29.

- Leg 2 (Saturday 7th. Total length: 683.14 km) starts from Karlstad at 05:30 and includes 8 stages (152.40 km) split into four loops: 'Sundsjön 1'/'Malta 1', 'Fredriksberg'/'Lejen', 'Malta 2'/'Sundsjön 2' and 'Vargåsen/Hagfors Sprint 2'. Cars get back to Karlstad for the overnight halt from 19:36.

- The third leg (Sunday 8th) starts from Karlstad at 05:30 (total length: 595.79 km). The rally ends with a menu of 6 stages (96.60 km) in the form of a single loop ('Såje'/'Rämmen'/'Hara') to be run twice. The finish ceremony will be held in Karlstad from 16:38.

- The Swedish Rally has yet to be won by a non-Scandinavian driver. Prior to 1981, the Swedes were unbeaten on their home event. It was Finland's Hannu Mikkola (Audi Quattro) who put an end to their domination...

- The most successful driver in the history of the event is still Sweden's Stig Blomqvist (7 wins).

Weather Forecast
While it's not uncommon for crews to compete in temperatures as low as -30°C, full snow conditions on the event's 19 stages are by no means guaranteed. In recent years mild conditions have presented teams with a challenging mixture of road surfaces, with everything from hard-packed snow, ice and sections of frozen gravel. As a result, this year's event is moving further north in an attempt to find more consistent snow conditions.

-wrc-

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Freddy Loix , Mark Higgins , Kenneth Backlund , Gilles Panizzi , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , Sébastien Loeb , Jani Paasonen , Hervé Panizzi , Timo Rautiainen , Daniel Sola , Kristian Sohlberg , Michael Park , Manfred Stohl , Oscar Svedlund , Daniel Elena , Mikko Hirvonen , Marc Marti , Sven Smeets , Jarmo Lehtinen , Janne Tuohino , Stig Blomqvist , Markko Martin , Kaj Lindstrom
Teams Citroën World Rally Team