Tidemand eyes chasing pack

Reigning champion Pontus Tidemand begins the defence of his WRC 2 title on home ground in Sweden with a pack of hard-charging Nordic drivers eager to knock him off his perch.

Tidemand won the WRC’s support category last year with five wins from six outings in his Skoda Motorsport-entered Fabia R5. He started by claiming maximum points at Rally Sweden and is favourite to do so again this week at the snow and ice fest.

But he has several big challengers in the 15-car entry, none more so than young team-mate Ole Christian Veiby, who claimed one win in 2017 en route to sixth in the standings.

While Tidemand can count on Swedish support throughout the four-day event, Veiby will be urged on by his fans when the encounter spends most of Friday in Norway’s forests.

Eager for a strong season start in conditions with which he is comfortable is Finland’s Jari Huttunen, who drives a Hyundai i20 R5 on his debut in the Korean manufacturer’s driver development programme.

“This season will be a learning curve for us, but we want to have a solid start on the snow, and build in each of the events we take part. We know we are into the deep end with a lot of very quick rivals in WRC 2,” said Huttunen, who scored a shock win in Finland last year.

Sweden’s Fredrik Åhlin has been away from the WRC scene since 2016 but returns in a Fabia after the agony of missing out on last season’s British Championship by a single point. He warmed up with victory earlier this month at Rally Vännäs.

Finland-based Japanese duo Takamoto Katsuta and Hiroki Arai are also no strangers to winter and both drive Ford Fiesta R5s entered by Tommi Mäkinen Racing.

Lukasz Pieniazek has a new team and new car, the Pole wheeling out a Fabia with the Printsport squad, while ex-Hyundai works driver Kevin Abbring wants to forget his retirement at last month’s Rallye Monte-Carlo. The Dutchman drives a Fiesta.

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