Round 2 of the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship season takes us to snowy Sweden as the brand new era of WRC hits the snow.
The new aggressive and faster WRC machines made a spectacular, if tragic, debut in Rally Monte Carlo but will now have the chance to prove themselves on the snow and ice of the Swedish forests in rally mad Scandinavia. If the cars can win over the passionate fans here, then they’re will win over anyone.
However, the main story in the build up to the event was that the all-snow rally will be actually be an all-snow one. Last year, Rally Sweden descended into a farce as a lack of snow meant it was touch and go to whether the event would even take place. While it eventually went ahead, eight stages were cut from the schedule, some even being cancelled during the rally itself.
Thankfully those problems are unlikely to occur this year, as a clear layer of snow covers the Varmland landscape and snow is on the forecast during the event. So expect to witness a classic Rally Sweden.
Business as Usual for Ogier and Welcome Back Ostberg
Current championship leader Sébastien Ogier is looking to extend his lead in the driver’s championship at the end of the event. While that isn’t a surprise, it was to see how quickly the new pairing of Ogier and M-Sport gelled on the icy French roads on Rallye Monte Carlo. The new pairing got off to a dream start with a win on the Monte and Ogier is also favourite for this event, with three wins in four years.
Despite this Ogier is not letting his hopes get too high especially with the threat of Hyundai. The Korean manufacturer nearly stole the Frenchmen’s thunder on the Monte until Thierry Neuville broke his suspension on the end of day two.
Both Neuville and Hayden Paddon had finished runner-up in the last two runnings of this event and both will be hoping to go one better after a disappointing and tragic Monte for Hyundai.
The manufacturer with the most to prove is Citroen after a disastrous showing on the Monte Carlo where even without the early retirements, the new C3 WRC proved to be a handful and unsuited to the mixed snow and tarmac conditions. Even so lead driver Kris Meeke, is still full of confidence, claiming the issues were Monte’s specific.
The Northern Irishman told Autosport that in Sweden “This thing’s definitely not going to rattle me.” Despite this statement he rattled the Citroen’s rolecage with a crash in testing.
The other Irishman in the team, Craig Breen will get his first start in the C3 after his phenomenal performance in the old DS3 WRC which caused red faces in the red team.
The event also see the introduction of a new team but with a very familiar face leading it. After being dropped by the M-Sport team in order to accommodate Ogier, Mads Ostberg has teamed up with long-time Czech Privateer Martin Prokop to field a team of two brand new Ford Fiesta WRCs.
Ostberg makes his introduction in the striking black, white and orange machine and the former Rally Sweden runner-up will be a dark horse in the challenge for the podium places.
Tidemand out for home victory with Skoda
In WRC2, Skoda are looking to build upon Andreas Mikkelsen’s dominant Monte win, with success for local hero Pontus Tidemand.
However, last year’s runner-up in WRC2 championship Teemu Suninen is looking to impress on his first outing with the M-Sport team, piloting a Ford Fiesta R5. Suninen will partner Éric Camilli, who is looking to build upon his good result in the Monte.
Competition will also come from Tidemand’s step-dad as Henning Solberg makes his first appearance in the WRC this year behind the wheel of a Skoda Fabia R5. Other potential rivals are the Norwegian duo of Anders Grøndal and Eyvind Brynildsen, both Fiesta R5 mounted.
In WRC3 the only competitor is British driver Louise Cook in her Ford Fiesta R2. The Kent driver, who is completing after a crowd-funding campaign raised the money to enter, hopes to come away with a good result.
In the new WRC Trophy class for pre-2017 WRC cars, two familiar privateers will do battle for success. Italian privateer Lorenzo Bertelli in his Ford Fiesta WRC will compete with Ukrainian Valeriy Gorban in his venerable Mini John Cooper Works WRC for success in the new category.
So expect to witness a classic Rally Sweden, and follow it right here on The Checkered Flag.