As the crews adapt their driving to combat the unique nature of the event, the Swedish fixture has always been one for the brave. The action kick starts with plenty of power slides at the popular Karlstad Super Special before a flurry of popular speed tests in the forests of Sweden, and Norway.
Reigning Champions Sebastien Ogier and M-Sport WRT are ready to take the fight to their rivals at the Swedish rally, along with two other Fiesta WRCs of Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen. With three Rally Sweden victories to his name, Ogier is the most successful non-Scandinavians in the history of the event; his number of wins only bettered by that of Stig Blomqvist, Marcus Grönholm, Björn Waldegård and Jari-Matti Latvala.
With near-perfect conditions expected next week, the Frenchman could be disadvantaged as the first car on the road, sweeping a clean line through the fresh snow for the cars behind. But the defending champion is never to be discounted, even when the odds are stacked against him. “As the first car on the road, we’ll also have to wait and see what the conditions are like and we’re certainly not hoping to see any fresh snow on Friday. We got the season off to a great start last month, but we all know how strong the competition is and we’re expecting it to be even stronger. The Scandinavians are always strong here, but we plan to give them a hard time and secure another strong haul of points for our championship defence,” said Ogier.
For title challengers Hyundai WRT, the opening round of the championship delivered little reward for their efforts as each of the three crews ran into trouble in Monte. Still, they managed six stage wins and seven Power Stage points.
Now, the team’s crews are prepared to face the season’s only full snow event. For Hyundai WRT, the picture postcard setting brings back happy memories from podium finishes in 2015 and 2016. However, last season’s event didn’t run according to plan… Paddon Hayden returns to the team’s line-up in Sweden, taking over the #6 car from Dani Sordo. “It feels like a long time since we competed in Australia,” he said. “Sweden will be a fresh start. I will be trying to repeat the sort of performance that saw me finish on the podium two years ago.”
Once again, new team driver Andreas Mikkelsen will find some home comforts on the snowy stages. “This is a special event for us, as we can rally across the border in our home country of Norway,” commented Mikkelsen.
Citroën WRT will have a new driver in their Swedish rally line-up, as Mads Østberg joins Kris Meeke and Craig Breen. The Norwegian knows Citroën well, having scored seven podiums as a works driver for the team between 2014 and 2015. In Sweden, his reputation is not only limited to his gravity-defying leaps over Colin’s Crest, the famous jump on the Vargasen stage, since he has also finished as runner-up in 2011 and claimed four other podium finishes since then (3rd in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016).
Meeke and Breen can equally make a good case for them building on the haul of points racked up by the team in Monte-Carlo. Meeke was among the frontrunners on only his third appearance at the event in 2016, whilst Breen has competed here five times, his best result being fifth place in 2017, and really enjoys the specific difficulties of this very unusual event.