Wed 08 Feb 2023

Preview: Rally Sweden

The frozen forests of northern Sweden will be lit up by the red-hot pace of the FIA World Rally Championship's leading stars as the series arrives in Umeå for round two this week (9 - 12 February).

A founding round of the WRC, Rally Sweden is one of the oldest rallies in the world. It is also the only event on the calendar to take place entirely on snow and ice, with temperatures set to plunge as low as -10°C during rally week.

Winter rallying demands a unique approach. Drivers ‘lean’ their cars against snowbanks to guide them around corners, while studded Pirelli tyres bite into the ice to provide remarkable grip. Ironically, it’s one of the fastest rallies of the year - as proven last season when victor Kalle Rovanperä averaged a whopping 121.52kph.

Rovanperä will be doing everything in his power to go even faster this time around. With a world title to defend and a Sweden double in his sights, the Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 driver will be first to traverse the roads of the Västerbotten region during Friday’s opening leg - and that will be a challenge in itself.

“It can be tricky to open the road on snow and it depends a lot on how the conditions will be,” he said. “We had a good result in Sweden last year and we will try to repeat it this time.

“Our pre-event test went really well, with perfect conditions and a thick layer of ice on the road. Hopefully it’s like that for the rally too, and we don’t suffer too much running first on Friday.”

Joining the Finn in a three-strong Toyota Gazoo Racing line-up are Elfyn Evans, winner here in 2020, and Takamoto Katsuta, who replaces part-time driver Sébastien Ogier to mark his points-scoring debut for the Japanese manufacturer squad. Italian privateer Lorenzo Bertelli debuts a rented Yaris but won’t score points for the team.

Thierry Neuville will look to build upon his Rallye Monte-Carlo podium with another strong showing this time out. The Belgian driver has good company at Hyundai Motorsport as team-mates Esapekka Lappi and Craig Breen have both scored podiums in previous Rally Sweden editions.

For part-time driver Breen, the event marks something of a homecoming as he replaces Dani Sordo behind the wheel of Hyundai’s third i20 N. He drove for the team from 2019 to 2021 but spent last season with rivals M-Sport Ford. Now, after a year away, he’s back.

"With it being my first competitive event in the car, this will be a challenge," admitted the Irishman. "Ultimately, my main goal is to enjoy the experience."

Ott Tänak, who re-joined M-Sport Ford from Hyundai late last year, is eager to prove the potential he has aboard the Puma Rally1.

The Estonian driver steered the car to victory on a local rally last weekend, where conditions were similar to what he’ll face this week. That has given Tänak the confidence that he, along with young team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet, can challenge for the top positions. 

“Personally, I feel much more confident on snow, so we’ll see how we compare to the other guys,” Tänak said. “If it’s icy it’s better to be out earlier on the road, and if it’s very snowy it’s the other way around. So, it really depends on the conditions, we’ll just have to see what the weather does. Either way, we are ready for the action - we have no choice!”

The rally begins from Umeå on Thursday evening. Crews then tackle 18 stages covering 301.18km before Sunday afternoon’s finish.

  • Full coverage from Rally Sweden will be 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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