Rally Sweden: Series preview

The rally

The waiting is over. Four months since Sebastien Loeb marked the end of the old World Rally Car era with victory on Wales Rally GB, the World Rally Championship is back with new technical regulations, new cars, new teams and a host of exciting new driver line-ups.

It all starts in the city of Karlstad, which once again has the honour of hosting the only true winter rally on the WRC calendar from 10-13 February. And, for the second year running, Sweden forms the opening round of what is set to be another thrilling WRC season.

Karlstad marks the point where Sweden's longest river, Klaralven, runs into the country's largest lake, Vanern. It is also said to be Sweden's sunniest city. But while Karlstad will host the ceremonial start and finish plus two superspecial stages at the city's trotting track, the battle for glory will be fought out in the snow-coated forests of Varmland and Dalarna to the north, with the central service located at Hagfors Airport, some 85 kilometres from Karlstad.

Sweden's WRC counter requires a special blend of speed and precision as drivers thread their cars between snow banks and trees. All cars are equipped with special studded tyres that tear through the surface snow to bite into the thick layer of ice beneath to provide grip.

Despite the fact the stage surface is too slippery to walk on, the cars can achieve speeds of up to 200kph, making it a must-see event for all rally fans. However, with ambient temperatures hovering around minus 20 degrees centigrade for much of the rally, it takes a special breed of spectator to brave the extreme conditions.

Following Thursday evening's ceremonial start and superspecial stage in Karlstad, Friday's action is centred on western Varmland with a regroup in the town of Torsby. Among the highlights on day one will be the Vargasen stage, which features the famous Colin's Crest jump - named in memory of the late Colin McRae - plus the new Lovhaugen stage, which starts and finishes in Sweden but crosses the border into neighbouring Norway.

Crews head to the Dalarna region on Saturday to tackle classic stages such as Fredriksberg and Sagen, a personal favourite of double world champion Marcus Gronholm who took part on the event last year. The arena stage down a ski slope in Hagfors will also appear on Saturday's itinerary.

Sunday's stages, including Rammen and Torntorp, are located close to Hagfors. Prior to the final service the Gustavsfors stage, which hasn't been used since the 1980s, is set to provide a dramatic late twist. It's the setting of the WRC's first Power Stage, which is a new concept for 2011. As well as being shown live on television, the stage will award bonus points to the fastest three drivers.

In total, the rally features 11 different special stages each run twice over a competitive distance of 351 kilometres. The event also features the opening round of the Production Car World Rally Championship and a separate national rally for Swedish crews.

Who's going to win?

It's all to play for on Rally Sweden as competitors adapt to the new-generation World Rally Cars in competition for the first time.

Changes to the technical regulations for 2011 have led to the banning of devices such as launch control, active central differential and paddle shift gearchange, which has put a great onus on driver skill as a result.

The 2.0-litre turbo engine has been phased out and replaced with a direct-injection 1.6-litre turbo, which means less torque and the need to apply more revs. The cars are also wider and shorter. It's resulted in a more agile-handling machine in twisty and technical sections but with a slight loss of stability on high-speed roads.

There will be 13 World Rally Cars competing in Sweden - four Citroen DS3 WRCs and nine Ford Fiesta RS WRCs.

Citroen's challenge is headed by seven-time world champion Sebastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena. Loeb, now 36, doesn't rank Sweden as one of his favourite events and has played down his chances of claiming his second win on the rally. However, like new team-mate Sebastien Ogier, Loeb has conducted extensive testing in Sweden and is expected to challenge for victory.

Ogier, the 2008 Junior world champion, made his Rally Sweden debut last season and could find it hard to outgun Loeb and Citroen privateer Petter Solberg. The Norwegian has scant knowledge of his DS3 due to a restricted testing programme but is a master of driving on snow, and is relishing the prospect of tackling two stages in his homeland on day one of the rally.

Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 Formula One world champion, completes the Citroen line-up as he continues his rallying transition.

Ford has won every Rally Sweden since 2006 and the last two winners of the event - Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala - lead the Blue Oval attack in a brace of factory Fiesta RS WRCs.

Hirvonen is anxious to get his WRC career back on track following a frustrating 2010, but Latvala is on a high after finishing runner-up to Loeb in last season's final standings. He is determined a crash in testing last month won't knock him off his stride.

PG Andersson starts the rally as Ford's dark horse for success. The Swede has a impressive record on his home event and will be determined to put on a strong showing to repay a number of his fans who have donated much-needed funding. While there is no disputing Andersson's ability, he won't get to try the Fiesta RS WRC in final trim until four days before the start of the rally, which could count against him.

Norwegians Henning Solberg and Mads Ostberg front the M-Sport Stobart Ford World Rally Team bid and are capable of challenging for a podium. British team-mate Matthew Wilson has also shown well on Rally Sweden in the past and is a huge fan of the new Fiesta, which he has helped to develop.

Dutchman Dennis Kuipers and American Ken Block will also drive Fiestas for the FERM Power Tools and Monster World Rally Teams respectively. They will be in contention for a points finish, as will Khalid Al Qassimi, who is entered in a semi-works example with backing from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. Al Qassimi marked his Rally Sweden debut in 2008 by jumping the furthest over Colin's Crest.

Fourteen Production Car World Rally Championship drivers will be competing in Sweden and a preview will appear on WRC.com on Monday.

Other names to look out for on the Rally Sweden entry list include rapid Swede Patrik Sandell in a Skoda Fabia Super 2000, fellow former Junior world champion Martin Prokop, Norway's Eyvind Brynildsen and Swedish Touring Car Championship star Richard Goransson.

On this rally last year

Mikko Hirvonen got his 2010 title bid off to a stunning start with a comprehensive victory over Sebastien Loeb on a route that was further north and 57 per cent different to the one used in 2008 to help guarantee sufficient snow. The event also marked Marcus Gronholm's return to the world stage in a Ford Focus RS WRC. The double title-winner took a stage victory but was denied a points finish by an electrical fault. Local heroes PG Andersson and Patrik Flodin both shone. Andersson won the inaugural SWRC class in 10th overall, while Flodin topped the PWRC leaderboard.

Did you know?

When a lack of snow forced the rally's cancellation in 1990, organisers staged a made-for-TV rallysprint instead.


Crews can choose between Michelin's X Ice North tyre and DMACK's DMG-Ice tyre under new rules for 2011. While the bulk of the leading runners have chosen to run on Michelin rubber in Sweden, approximately eight crews will use the Chinese-made DMG-Ice option, which is asymmetric to reduce costs.

-source: wrc.com

Rally Sweden: Support classes preview
Previous article

Rally Sweden: Support classes preview

Next article

Rally Sweden: Petter Solberg preview

Rally Sweden: Petter Solberg preview
Load comments
The WRC star that's earned the right to lead M-Sport's revival Prime

The WRC star that's earned the right to lead M-Sport's revival

Part-time opportunities with Citroen and Hyundai have offered brief glimpses of what Craig Breen can do in a World Rally Championship car. Now signed up by M-Sport to lead it into the WRC's new hybrid era, Breen has been given the chance he's pursued for so long and is determined to make the most of it

5 h
Why the WRC's 'modern Group B' era was rallying at its bonkers best Prime

Why the WRC's 'modern Group B' era was rallying at its bonkers best

The World Rally Championship has brought down the curtain on the aggressive, aero-laden generation of cars first introduced in 2017 that have been likened to the 1980s Group B icons. As the championship prepares to begin a new era of Rally1 hybrid cars, its stars explain just why the outgoing machines were so special

Dec 24, 2021
Ranking the top 10 WRC drivers of 2021 Prime

Ranking the top 10 WRC drivers of 2021

On the eve of a new hybrid era for the World Rally Championship, the 2021 season was a blockbuster fought out between Toyota's two top dogs, with a familiar figure eventually emerging on top after a final showdown at Monza. We pick out the 10 best performers from the top class and its supporting cast

Dec 21, 2021
Why Ogier's WRC swansong was a season to savour Prime

Why Ogier's WRC swansong was a season to savour

He’s shuffling into semi-rally-retirement, but Toyota star Sebastien Ogier was at the peak of his powers in the final season for the high downforce era-World Rally Championship cars. Despite Toyota's domination, there was still much to enjoy as the old master emerged atop a fierce title fight against teammate Elfyn Evans.

Dec 19, 2021
How WRC legend Ogier will be remembered by his peers Prime

How WRC legend Ogier will be remembered by his peers

After winning his eighth WRC title, Sebastien Ogier has drawn the curtain on his full-time rallying career. To understand Ogier's legacy, many of his former rivals, team-mates and colleagues have shared their thoughts on a vastly successful career

Nov 26, 2021
Ranking lost WRC legend Richard Burns' 10 best rallies Prime

Ranking lost WRC legend Richard Burns' 10 best rallies

Richard Burns was a determined driver who took on the best rally drivers in the world during a boom period in the early 2000s, and beat them. On the 20th anniversary of his crowning glory in winning the 2001 WRC title, and 16 years on from his death on the same date, we pick out his 10 greatest drives

Nov 25, 2021
The internal focus that made Burns a legendary world rally champion Prime

The internal focus that made Burns a legendary world rally champion

At the turn of the millennium, WRC was full to the brim with rallying's great and good - and 20 years ago on this day, Richard Burns became England's first world rally champion. Although Burns' natural talent drove him to the top, his steely determination and mental strength was the key attribute behind his title-winning form

Nov 25, 2021
How Ogier emerged from Loeb's shadow to form his own WRC legend Prime

How Ogier emerged from Loeb's shadow to form his own WRC legend

OPINION: Adding an eighth WRC title to his name, Sebastien Ogier has bowed out from full-time rallying in style. Having been compared throughout his career with nine-time champion Sebastien Loeb, Ogier has convincingly demonstrated that he can stand on his own as one of the greatest rally drivers in history

Nov 22, 2021