The Subaru World Rally Team heads to the snow-bound forest roads of Sweden with the aim of continuing its positive start to the 2007 World Rally Championship. Following the fourth and sixth-place finishes achieved by Chris Atkinson/Glenn...
The Subaru World Rally Team heads to the snow-bound forest roads of Sweden with the aim of continuing its positive start to the 2007 World Rally Championship.
Following the fourth and sixth-place finishes achieved by Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall and Petter Solberg/Phil Mills respectively on Rallye Monte Carlo last month, the team is focusing its efforts on consistent, reliable performances on the back-to-back events in Sweden and Norway.
The Swedish Rally is one of the most unpredictable and extreme events of the season. Despite the ever-present ice and snow -- plus temperatures that can fall as low as minus 25 Celsius -- the drivers will still be in maximum attack mode on the special stages in the forests near Hagfors, a small town in the centre of the Scandinavian country.
The roads are fast and flowing -- indeed, this is the second-fastest rally on the WRC calendar, behind Rally Finland, and last year the average speed of the winning car was 110.78kph. To be on the pace on ice, the drivers have to be confident enough to drive at high speed in the treacherous conditions. The roads are covered with a layer of soft snow and a base of hard ice, and the two Impreza World Rally Cars will be fitted with studded BFGoodrich tyres. The studs, which are tungsten-tipped, can cut through to the base layer and provide a surprising amount of grip.
Rallying in Sweden is a technical challenge that both Petter and Chris greatly enjoy. The drivers use the tall snow banks that line the edges of the roads as an aid to 'steer' their cars around corners. They also have to cope with poor visibility, caused by the blanket of snow. Some drivers wear special tinted glasses to reduce glare and help them define the road clearly at high speed.
The route for this year's Swedish Rally is very similar to last year, with most of the special stages taking place to the north-west and east of the main service area in Hagfors. The crews will battle over 20 special stages and a total of 342.09 competitive kilometres.
One change to the route is the introduction of a Super Special Stage situated on the outskirts of Karlstad, the base town for the rally. The rally organisers have created a spectator-friendly 1.9km test around the grounds of the Farjestad horse trotting track. The event begins with the first run around the Super Special at 2000hrs on Thursday 8 February and ends in the same location at 1400hrs on Sunday 11 February.
The event is paired with Rally Norway, on the WRC calendar for the first time. The event takes place the following weekend and is based across the border in Hamar, just 250kms from Karlstad.
The Subaru World Rally Team heads to Sweden with the same brace of Impreza WRCs that started Rallye Monte Carlo. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills will drive car number seven, while Chris Atkinson/Glenn Macneall will be in car number eight. Petter has contested the Swedish Rally eight times and won here in 2005. Chris has fond memories of the event, because he started his career with the team on the Swedish Rally in 2005. His best finish on the snow is 11th place, achieved last year.
Richard Taylor, Subaru World Rally Team managing director: "We're looking for a good performance in Sweden, but it is going to be very competitive. We have to bear in mind that we are still using our 2006 car, so two cars in the top six would be a good performance for us. For Petter the snow is familiar territory and he'll be used to the conditions. Chris has not done as many events on snow, but his drive in Monte Carlo was very strong indeed and we're confident he can carry that form forward to Sweden. The strong result in Monte Carlo created a good feeling in the team and it's fair to say that we've made a big step forward both technically and in terms of the organisation of the team since the end of 2006. Obviously what we achieved in Monte Carlo is a base to build on, rather than the level we need to be at, but there's a clear direction and a very positive mindset within the team."
Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: "There's a very strong entry list for Sweden, including lots of quick local drivers, and it's going to be a tough event. We're testing in Sweden this weekend and after that we'll have a better idea of the pace we can run at. Although most of the stages are the same as last year, there are several unknowns. We still don't know exactly what the conditions will be like for the rally. There's been some snow recently, but a warm front is scheduled to come in this weekend and that could cause a few upsets. Snow rallies are not usually very demanding on the machinery, but Sweden and Norway are paired events, so we have to use the same engine for both and we're also limited to four sets of transmissions. With just a few days between the end of Sweden and the start of Rally Norway, we have done quite a lot of preparation and maintenance at our base before the events."
Petter Solberg: "It's great to be back on snow again for the next two rallies. Last year we did not have much luck in Sweden, but the year before I won here, so I have some good memories. It was good for the team to have both cars in the points in Monte Carlo last month. I think we can do the same on this rally, but we will have to wait and see exactly what result we are capable of, because there are a lot of good drivers out there. The car is improving all the time, but I will know a lot more after I drive the car during our pre-event test this weekend."
Chris Atkinson: "Despite the great result on Rallye Monte Carlo, I'm keeping my expectations quite cautious ahead of the two snow rallies. We aimed for top six in Monte Carlo and things went our way, so we're aiming for the top five or six for these next two events in Sweden and Norway. If we come away with some more points, I'll be happy. In 2005 Sweden was my first ever rally with the Subaru World Rally Team and I've got fond memories. It's such a fun event."
Between the rallies
Testing duties have kept both drivers busy since Rallye Monte Carlo in mid-January. Earlier this week Chris and Petter participated in a test of the Subaru Impreza WRC2007 on the gravel roads of Sardinia. They then decamped to Sweden to put the current car through its paces ahead of next weekend's rally. Petter has also been busy with media appearances in Norway, as his home country gears up to host its first WRC event. One day after finishing a dramatic fourth on Rallye Monte Carlo, Chris moved into his new apartment in -- appropriately enough -- Monaco!