The Event Just eleven days after competitors crossed the finish ramp in Monte Carlo, crews will begin the second round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, the Swedish Rally, next Thursday 6 February. The rally commences with a ceremonial...
Just eleven days after competitors crossed the finish ramp in Monte Carlo, crews will begin the second round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, the Swedish Rally, next Thursday 6 February. The rally commences with a ceremonial start in the host town of Karlstad before moving 90 kilometres north to stages around a central Service Park in the town of Hagfors. The rally comprises 387 competitive kilometres and sixteen stages which are run from Friday until Sunday.
The only true winter event of the WRC series, Sweden presents the teams with a series of tricky snow and ice covered stages that require absolute skill and accuracy to master. While it is not unusual for temperatures to plunge beyond -25ºC, full snow conditions are by no means guaranteed and drivers often have to contend with a mixture of hard packed snow, ice and some sections of loose gravel.
In full snow conditions and using the permitted studded tyres, this is one of the fastest events of the year. The deep snow banks that line the stages can be used by drivers to keep them on track like a bobsleigh. However, if the snow cover is poor then the packed ice and gravel can quickly damage the tungsten tipped studs, and drivers must strike a balance between outright speed and tyre conservation.
Following a ceremonial start in Karlstad on Thursday evening, the rally begins in earnest on Friday morning when crews travel to Hagfors for the first service. On Leg One they will tackle six stages, including Granberget, which at 44 kilometres is the longest of the event. Saturday will see the drivers contest a further six stages on the treacherous roads, before battling it out on the final four tests on Sunday. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp back in Karlstad at 1705 hours on Sunday.
The 555 Subaru World Rally Team will be entering two cars on the Swedish Rally, which will be piloted by Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg. Both cars will be eligible to score FIA Manufacturers' points.
Tommi Mäkinen is a veteran of the Swedish event, having competed on it twelve times previously. He has won it three times and, as an expert in the specialist conditions, is one of the favourites for a good result.
2003 will mark Petter Solberg's fifth attempt at the rally. He finished in the points with Subaru in 2001 but retired last year on Leg Two after ending the previous Leg in sixth place. With a wealth of experience of winter competition gained in his native Norway Solberg is definitely one to watch next week.
Petter Solberg: "I wasn't feeling great after Monte Carlo but that's all behind me now and I'm back in business. I'm really looking forward to Sweden. I went home for two days between the rallies and managed to fit in some more training to increase my fitness - it's really important for this event as it's so very cold, sometimes minus 29! We have completed 312km in the pre-event test already and the car has been running well, no problems at all so I am feeling confident. I will be clocking up more miles today and hope to do a much better job for the team than last week. For me, this is where the season starts."
Tommi Mäkinen: "The results of the Swedish Rally depend very much on the weather. The key to success is obviously always to go flat out but the weather in Sweden can make things difficult. For us we prefer the weather to be quite cold with not so much snow on the stages - it was a big disaster for us last year when it snowed on the stage just before the start. In those kind of conditions it is a problem if you are first on the road and in Sweden it is usually safer to be a bit behind. It's a fast event and you have to find a smooth and fast line through the stages. I am looking forward to the event and it will be good to get some more kilometres in the new car to see where we are with it."
The Car / The Challenge
555 Subaru World Rally Team Operations Director, Paul Howarth:
"The Swedish Rally presents the 555 Subaru World Rally Team with a lot of challenges for both cars and drivers. The event is high speed and a lot depends on the weather conditions and how much damage has been done to the stage surface by previous cars. This is a problem particularly when the layer of packed snow is very thin. It is currently warm in Karlstad but we are expecting a big drop in temperature and snowfall in the early part of next week. Although the result in Monte Carlo was very disappointing, it's often advantageous to run lower down the starting order in Sweden if the snow conditions are right. With Petter and Tommi running further back on the stages on Leg One, we could be in a favourable position."
"For the drivers it is imperative that they keep a clean line through the stages by using as much of the road and the snow banks where necessary to maximise performance on the high speed sections. In areas where the underlying gravel is exposed, they have to be careful to preserve their tyres - the studs are essential to maintain maximum grip.
"In Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg we have two of the most talented drivers on this type of surface. Being Scandinavian, they are both at home in these conditions and between them have substantial experience on this particular event."
Between the Rallies
There has been little time for drivers to take a break since Monte Carlo. Petter Solberg and Phil Mills travelled to the team's pre-event test on Wednesday (29th), and completed a two-day test on roads around the town of Torsby. Tommi Mäkinen and Kaj Lindstrom will be testing on Saturday and Sunday before both crews regroup in Karlstad to begin the reconnaissance on Monday.
Situated so close to his home in Norway, Petter considers the Swedish Rally his home event, and is keen to put on a good show for the legion of fans that will make the journey to cheer him on. At the time of writing his Supporters Club have booked more than 220 rooms in Karlstad!