Thursday, February 14th marks the commencement of round 2 of the WRC at its traditional haunt of Rally Sweden; or Valentine’s Day depending on your disposition. Before that; a quick Monte Carlo re-cap; Along with a WRC news recap.
Round 1 at Monte Carlo saw Sebastien Ogier claim victory, getting his championship challenge off to a very good start. It also marked an excellent debut for the revised Citroen C3 which spent most of the weekend looking imperious. Thierry Neuville finished in second for Hyundai & Tanak rounded out the podium with a Third place finish for Toyota.
Ford are rather conspicuous by their absence at the sharp end of the Rally’s results. Elfyn Evans crashed, resulting in his Fiesta being stranded in a ditch missing most of its right rear quarter and bereft of a wheel.
Predictably, Ogier leads the championship with 29 points, Neuvile in second with 21 points & Tanak in third with 17 points.
Since Monte Carlo, a few little nuggets of news have emerged & developed.
Mads Ostberg will race in the WRC2 category in a Citroen C3 in Rally Sweden, Mads has traditionally gone well in Sweden, so expect a competitive run on what has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for Ostberg.
Finnish national rally champion, Juhana Raitanen makes his WRC2 PRO debut in a Skoda Fabia in Rally Sweden this week. This also marks the beginning of a four rally program, taking in Rally Portugal, Rally Finland & Wales Rally GB. The entry is endorsed by Skoda Motorsport as a WRC2 PRO entry alongside Kalle Rovanpera’s factory run Skoda.
Pontus Tidemand will fly the home flag this week in the premier WRC category in the M Sport Ford Fiesta. Tidemand is the only Swedish driver in the top category this year, it is also potentially Tidemand’s last round with M Sport this year; Tidemand is only locked in for 2 rounds in 2019, so the pressure exerted on Tidemand will be significant this week; A strong performance could guarantee future seat time with the Factory Ford squad.
The FIA intend to introduce Electric/Hybrid WRC rules as early as 2022, a point that will be explored in more detail as more information emerges surrounding the new regulations.
Sebastien Loeb & Co-Driver Daniel Elena were involved in a high speed testing crash in their Hyundai i20N WRC preparing for Rally Sweden, whilst the car was heavily damaged, Loeb & Elena were un-injured in the collision.
Rally Sweden. It occupies a unique place in the calendar. It’s the only full snow event on the calendar, the only event that necessitates the use of the clever studded snow tyres and is also brutally fast. Large snow banks that flank the stages can be leant on to gain time on occasion, but they can suck cars of the road, stranding the unwary and costing huge gobs of time or worse.
Thursday the 14th will see crowds wowed by the Super Special Stage at Karlstad, but the action starts proper on the morning of Friday the 15th. The longest day sees a lion’s share of the running taking place in Norway and at times ducking in and out of Sweden and Norway on the Rojden stage (Passports are optional.)
Saturday the 16th takes in the legendary Hagfors & Vargasen stages, the latter containing ‘Colin’s Crest.’ A gargantuan jump taken at high speed, whoever jumps the furthest wins the hearts of the crowd and takes the bragging rights. The Karlstad Super Special makes another evening appearance with the Torsby stage closing the days proceedings.
Sunday the 17th is the final day. Two runs of the Likenas stage and another run through drivers with the chance the Torsby stage, doubling as the Power Stage with bonus points up for grabs.
Coming into this weekend, Sebastien Ogier has stated words to the effect that road position will play a massive part in who will be competitive and who won’t, with the second variable being the weather.
Ogier, owing to victory in Monte Carlo will be the first car on the road, his Citroen will act as a 400bhp snowplough; This will slow Ogier down but clear the road behind allowing the chasing cars draw more grip from the surface and thus go quicker.
There is an aside to this, start too far down the order and the cars studded tyres gouge out the snow first, then the underlying ice and then into the gravel below. The gravel will initially give you more grip, but it pulls the studs out of the tyres after a certain point, the result being that when you’re back on snow you suffer a severe traction/grip disadvantage in braking, cornering and acceleration phases. With many stages being run multiple times, this is something that could become a significant issue; It is an issue which the teams will have to manage at the time and ignore at their peril.
Andrea Adamo, Hyundai’s Motorsports head honcho is optimistic ahead of Sweden and with good reason. 2018 saw Neuville win in Sweden which has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for the Hyundai’s. They are also buoyed by the fact Hyundai come into Sweden as the Manufacturers Championship leaders, following a strong run from the whole team in Monte Carlo.
Neuville is also optimistic coming into this event and with the advantage of road position in the opening day, Neuville can stamp his authority on the opening day providing all goes to plan.
Toyota will be looking to continue their strong performance that they showed at Monte Carlo. Tanak finished Third and other teams are wary of what Toyota can do when the Yaris is off the least. Tanak, much like Neuville will be hungry to secure his first win in 2019 and there is no reason why he is not able to do that.
Ford had what can only be described as a nightmare in Monte Carlo, Elfyn Evans crashed out, going off the road, into a tree and ripping the right rear quarter of the car clean off. It saw Evans resort to WRC2 rules, which meant no chance of a good result.
Teemu Suninen crashed on Stage 1 & Pontus Tidemand lacked pace and had a wishbone failure on Friday. It goes without saying that Ford will want to bounce back and have a strong showing at Sweden.
Rally Sweden starts at 1930hrs (UTC+1) on Thursday February 14th, with coverage provided on the WRC official app.