While our prediction of Sebastien Loeb for Monte-Carlo was spot-on, Rally Sweden is a much more difficult result to call.
The form book would suggest either Mikko Hirvonen or Jari-Matti Latvala, both of whom have won the event twice in the last five years (it wasn’t run in 2009 because of the FIA’s rotation system). What complicates things, however, is that Ford has been unbeaten in Sweden since 2006 and this year neither driver is in one.
After switching to Citroen for 2012, Hirvonen was tipped for victory in Sweden last year, but on only his second rally in the DS3 WRC felt he was "missing that little something you need to grab the win". He lost out on that occasion to Fiesta RS driver Latvala.
This year Latvala is the one in the new team and has slightly less than one rally under his belt with the Volkswagen Polo R. We think that makes Hirvonen, with the benefit of a full season in the DS3, our pick to score a Swedish hat-trick.
But, as ever, don’t rule out Loeb. In 2004 he became the only non-nordic driver to win Rally Sweden. This year, the Frenchman surprised many by picking Sweden as one the four rallies in his WRC swan song. "It is undoubtedly not one of the rallies where I have enjoyed the most success in recent years, but that’s exactly why I’m keen to compete here,” he explained. “I am here one final time to try and go out in style!” Few would doubt his ability to do that.
After his fairytale debut with Volkswagen on Rallye Monte-Carlo, Latvala’s team-mate Sebastien Ogier will be out to prove the result was no fluke. Ogier has two top five finishes to his name in Sweden and while in public the team is playing down its chances, you can be sure the Frenchman is desperate to climb another podium.
Among the Ford drivers, Mads Ostberg, Evgeny Novikov and fast young Finn Jari Ketomaa stand out. Ostberg has a huge amount of snow rally experience and has finished on the podium in Sweden twice in the last two years. With the stages going through his home country of Norway, he will be desperate to go one better than his 2011 second place.
Novikov was fifth in Sweden last year and after an excellent start to his season on Rallye Monte-Carlo could well be chasing a podium in his Fiesta. Ketomaa meanwhile will start Sweden less than one week after taking victory on the ERC round in Latvia. The Finn will be one of only three World Rally Car drivers running DMACK tyres this week.
Fellow Fiesta RS drivers, Thierry Neuville, Juho Hanninen and Henning Solberg are all well capable of springing a surprise or two in Sweden. And don’t rule out Loeb’s long term Citroen team-mate Dani Sordo, who finished fourth in 2010. He’ll be driving a Citroen DS3 in Sweden.
Other highlights to watch out for in Sweden - and Norway - include Fiesta pilot Nasser Al-Attiyah, fresh from a record-breaking tenth victory at the Qatar International Rally, and the man who finished runner-up, Citroen DS3 driver Khalid Al Qassimi. Michal Kosciuszko and Jarkko Nikara will be driving MINI John Cooper Works World Rally Cars prepared by Motorsport Italia and Prodrive respectively.
Beyond the thrilling battle for overall honours, Rally Sweden is also a round of the FIA WRC 2 Championship. Opening event winner Sepp Wiegand will be on the hunt for another maximum score in his Skoda S2000 and 11 other drivers will be out to stop him. Wiegand can expect some tough competition from winter rally specialists including multiple Norwegian rally champion Anders Grondal (Impreza) and Eyvind Brynildsen (Fiesta RCC). Sadly local hero Per-Gunnar Andersson won’t get the chance to compete after delays securing parts for the Satria Neo S2000 forced Proton to withdraw his entry.
Next page: On this rally last year, snow tyre facts.