WRC hits the snow in Sweden
WRC hits the snow in Sweden
The World Rally Championship moves to Sweden this weekend as the sport's elite drivers face the test of driving on snow and ice.
Having started the year on the tarmac surface of Monte Carlo two week's ago, drivers will need to adapt quickly if they are to succeed on the most unique rally of the championship.
Reigning world champion Sebastien Loeb heads to Sweden with a first-up win in Monte Carlo under his belt and eager to do well in his 100th career WRC start. His Citroen C4 will again be the car to beat in an event Loeb enjoys, having been the only non-Nordic winner of the event when he claimed the title in 2004.
"Competing on these extremely fast, icy stages is sheer delight," the Frenchman says. "Controlling long, high-speed power-slides, setting up the car for corners and using the snowbanks to stay on line is a great experience. When the studs give good grip, it really is a fantastic rally." Spaniard Dani Sordo will drive the second of the Citroens.
Given the success Nordic drivers have enjoyed in Sweden, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team will be expecting big things from their two Finnish drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala. Hirvonen is the driver most experts predict as the biggest challenge to Loeb winning an unprecedented fifth world championship on the trot and a win in Sweden will give him a great deal of confidence.
"Everyone is asking if I feel I'm the favourite," he said. "There are a few possible winners and I'm one of them, but I don't regard myself as the favourite. There's a little pressure, but I felt pressure in Rallye Monte Carlo and had a good result there. This is the first rally that I'm really thinking I have to win if I want to fight for the drivers' title."
In his second start in the works Ford Latvala replaces two-time world champion Marcus Gronholm, who retired at the end of last season. He has shown good pace in his short career so far and should be suited to the roads of Sweden.
"A proper winter rally is great fun," Latvala says. "I've driven many snow rallies and the feeling of driving fast in winter is one that I really enjoy. The conditions are more forgiving and the car spends more time sideways than on a gravel rally, because that style helps to get the car to turn into bends," he says.
Another man with high hopes in Sweden is former world champion Petter Solberg. The Norwegian grew up driving cars on the tundra of his homeland and won Rally Sweden in 2005, finishing on the podium twice since joining the Subaru World Rally Team.
"It's the first snow rally this year and I'm looking forward to it," Solberg says. "We need to drive very differently here, so it's about who can adapt. There are always a lot of fans there and it's great to have their support.
We've won here before but it's so so tricky you never know what can happen. We'll go there and drive our own rally, push as hard as we can, and see what happens. We can't do any more than that, and I hope we can have another good finish. It's about being fast but not making any mistakes." Solberg will drive one of the two Impreza WRC2007's with Australian Chris Atkinson in the other.