Anything other than a Nordic victory in WRC 2 at Rally Sweden would be a major surprise given the quality of the snow and ice experts doing battle this week.
Of the 13 crews lining up for this second round of the season, six hail from Sweden, Finland or Norway and it’s that half dozen that are likely to fight for a win.
Pontus Tidemand (above) began his season with a strong showing at Rallye Monte-Carlo last month, but it’s on home ground in Sweden where he begins his WRC 2 campaign in Skoda Motorsport’s Fabia R5.
“Last year we missed out on victory at our home rally by just 14.7sec. This time we want to finish on the top step of the podium. We want to put on a good show for our many fans at home,” said Tidemand, recently named Sweden’s motorsport athlete of the year for 2016.
He will face a strong challenge from Teemu Suninen, WRC 2 runner-up last year. The Finn has swapped his Fabia R5 for a Ford Fiesta R5 and is backed by the British-based M-Sport squad.
A trio of Norwegians will carry their country’s flag onto home ground when the event crosses the border on Friday. Multi-national champion Anders Grøndal and Eyvind Brynildsen drive Fiestas while Ole Christian Veiby is in a Fabia R5. Friday’s Hof-Finnskog stage will be extra special for Veiby as it crosses the forest his family owns.
Swede Emil Bergqvist completes the Nordic contingent in a Citroën DS 3 R5, but they must all keep a close eye on Russia’s Alexey Lukyanuk. He finished runner-up in last year’s European Championship and drives a Fiesta R5.
Eric Camilli also drives an M-Sport Fiesta R5 while Japanese drivers Takamoto Katsuta and Hiroki Arai make their season debuts in similar cars. Both are part of Toyota’s young driver development scheme and are based in Finland.