Thu 24 Feb 2022

Solberg: Sweden’s hope to restore home rule

Oliver Solberg, Mattias Adielsson and Per Gunnar Andersson know the story only too well – even though none was born when the opening chapters of the Rally Sweden book were being written.

The FIA World Rally Championship’s winter round belongs to Sweden. And Sweden belonged to the Swedes.

When the WRC opened its account 50 years ago, Karlstad followed Monte-Carlo as the second stop on the calendar. And for the next eight years, there wasn’t a flag in the world that would fly higher than the famous blue and yellow of Sweden.

It took Audi’s four-wheel drive Quattro and a Finnish world champion in the making – Hannu Mikkola – to end home rule in Sweden in 1981.

Since then, the rest of the world has become a bunch of fast-learners. The last Swede to succeed on these stages was Kenneth Eriksson in 1997.

Stig Blomqvist won the first Swedish in 1973 driving a Saab 96 V4.

“The Saab was nice for these roads,” he said. “We could carry a little bit more speed through the corners and, of course, we could understand the roads more than some of the other drivers. When you had lots of snow and the big winter, these were really nice conditions.”

The move north to Umeå means more of the same in terms of snow and a deep freeze. And that’s what the WRC’s winter round is all about. It’s the antithesis of a piping hot Safari or Sardinia. It’s what makes the WRC the most complete all-round challenge in global motorsport.

“To drive in the snow and the ice,” said Blomqvist, “is not always so easy. You have to understand where you use the snowbank and how much grip you can take from the road.”

Solberg is Sweden’s great hope for the future, but a first home win in 25 years is a lot to ask from the 20-year-old on just his second WRC outing in a Hyundai i20 N Rally1.

“When we have the conditions like these, it’s so special. The feeling in the car is just fantastic,” he enthused.

“You have incredible grip, better than you can think from the spikes in the tyres and when you can use the snowbank and just touch it with the rear and carry the speed through the corner… that feeling is the best in the car. I love it and it’s why we love Rally Sweden.”

There is no place on the WRC calendar like this week. From here it’s to asphalt and springtime in Croatia, so make the most of watching the world’s fastest rally cars being driven by the world’s best drivers on snow-packed Swedish roads where you and I would fear to tread.

• Full coverage from Rally Sweden is available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.

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