04 Feb 10
The first rally of the FIA's new championship for Super 2000 cars gets underway on 11 February as part of the opening round of the 2010 WRC, Rally Sweden. And with a world class selection of drivers, including four FIA champions, at the wheel of the newest cars in the series, there's a lot of pride at stake in the battle to take the first S-WRC rally win.
Ten rounds of this year's WRC count towards the new S-WRC support championship, and drivers must tackle eight of those ten to be eligible for the title. This year's only winter round of the WRC, Rally Sweden, is the first of the ten rallies and has been nominated by five of the ten drivers registered for the series so far.
Rally Sweden is well-known for the hazardous snow and ice which make the roads especially tough to master. The rally starts and finishes in Karlstad which hosts a head-to-head Super Special stage. This year's route stretches further north than last years, and is based around a Service Park 85km north of Karlstad in the town of Hagfors - ideally placed for the gravel roads and forests of the Varmland and Dalarna regions.
One of the favourites to do well next week, having taken the class win last year in Rally Norway, are Swedes Patrik Sandell and his co-driver Emil Axelsson, who return in their Skoda Fabia Super 2000 to start this season on home territory.
Fellow Scandinavian Eyvind Brynildsen (NOR), who came 5th in last year’s P-WRC, changing from a Group N Mitsubishi to a Skoda Fabia S2000 for the last rally of the season in Great Britain, also poses a clear threat. As does Martin Prokop (CZR), last year’s J-WRC champion and P-WRC runner-up. Like Bernardo Sousa (PRT) and Janne Tuohino (FIN), Prokop will be driving the new Ford Fiesta S2000 in Sweden - the same car Mikko Hirvonen won the Monte Carlo rally with last month.
For Sousa, the 2008 Rally Sweden was only his second WRC event. Back then he set out to gain experience and picked up one point. This year he's hoping two years of experience will lead to a better result. Former Ford factory team driver Tuohino, meanwhile, drove his S2000 Fiesta for the first time this week and is returning to the WRC after three years of absence. In Sweden he will co-driven by his uncle, Markku Tuohino. Apart from their home rally in Finland, Sweden will be Markku’s first World Rally.
But the S-WRC drivers will not only face competition from within the series. Also on the Sweden entry list in Super 2000 cars are 2007 J-WRC Champion, P-G Andersson (SWE) and Andreas Mikkelson (NOR). Both are experts in the snowy conditions, and either one has a serious chance of taking the outright class win.