The Subaru World Rally Team heads to the long and winding forest routes of Rally Sweden ready to tackle the challenge of all-out sideways action as crews wrestle their machines across sheet ice. The only specialist snow rally of the year, it is one of the fastest and most competitive
as WRC crews battle to prove their mettle on the only wholly ice-covered speed tests they will encounter all year.
Travelling to the city of Karlstad for the event that has honed the skills of so many past greats, it is clear to see how the conditions develop the flamboyant mastery of Scandinavians behind the wheel. Aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2007, Petter Solberg is no exception. The Norwegian grew up driving cars on the tundra of his homeland and won here in 2005, finishing on the podium twice since joining the team.
There is a finite skill demonstrated on few other events of flicking the car into the long and twisting corners and ‘leaning’ against the snow banks, literally using them to guide the car through the icy corners. Rally Sweden is the first competitive outing for Pirelli’s Sottozero ice tyre. The skinny rubber is dotted with metal studs designed to bite through the ice into the harder-packed surface below, producing fantastic grip on the most treacherous of conditions.
This year the event is based in Karlstad, and opens with a spectator-friendly speed test on Thursday night around the city’s 1.9 kilometre horse trotting track. Conditions in Sweden traditionally have made for one of the most extreme events of the season, but this year teams and organisers alike are watching the weather with trepidation. While snow is predicted over the weekend, there is currently a lack of snow on the stages. With average temperatures just above freezing, it is somewhat uncharacteristic of a rally that can see conditions plummet to minus 20 degrees Celsius.
In addition to the roads being incredibly treacherous, they are also very fast and flowing. In fact, the wintry routes are amongst the fastest of the entire season. Demanding maximum confidence from crews in their vehicles, the event is a stern test of man and machine and huge gains can be made by those fully commitment and driving on the edge.
The route this year comprises five new stages, one of which has been resurrected from 2000. Drivers who learn these new routes fastest and perfect their tricky pace notes to avoid mistakes will gain a significant advantage. With three remote services in Sunne and Hagfors, crews will tackle 20 stages and just over 340 competitive kilometres before reaching the finish.
The Subaru World Rally Team have entered two Impreza WRC2007s for Rally Sweden. Petter Solberg / Phil Mills will drive car number five and Chris Atkinson / Stéphane Prévot will be in car number six. Petter has only missed one Rally Sweden since his WRC debut in 1998 whilst this will only be Chris’ fourth attempt, and his first alongside Stéphane.
David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal: “Despite being held on roads covered with snow and sheet ice, Sweden is one of the fastest events of the year and most certainly favours those drivers with experience of these conditions. Petter was brought up on these roads but for Chris it must be an extraordinary contrast from the Australian outback and yet I expect him to do extremely well and have every confidence that both our drivers will be well in the points again this weekend."
Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: “We’ve seen the situation before that certain stages have had little snow until just before the start of the event, but what it needs is a real cold snap to give the routes a hard base of ice, else the stages will just get torn up. It’s generally an easy rally on the cars, but it’s physically demanding for the drivers as they need an aggressive approach on this type of surface. It’s very very fast and everyone will be fighting to take an early advantage. The snow banks are important as drivers use them through every corner and they also cover huge ditches at the sides of the road. Without the banks to guide the cars away from the ditches, costly mistakes will be easier to make.”
Petter Solberg: “It’s the first snow rally this year and I’m looking forward to it. We need to drive very differently here, so it’s about who can adapt. There’s 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.”
Chris Atkinson: “We’re approaching Sweden much the same way as we did Monte Carlo – we go there aiming for top five, top six results and try to be as consistent as possible. Rally Sweden is a specialist snow event and the driving style you need there is obviously totally different. Coming off tarmac we’ll have to adapt quickly to the snow and get up to speed as quickly as possible. In Monte you had to be neat and smooth, but Sweden is probably one of the most aggressive rallies of the year.”
Between the rallies
There is only a week between Rallye Monte Carlo and Rally Sweden, so the drivers have been using the time to relax a little, train and prepare for the snow. Petter and Chris live in Monaco so there was no need to travel home after the rally. Both drivers spent time with friends and family, and Chris celebrated on Sunday night with sportsman friends who watched the final day’s action from a yacht in Monaco’s famous harbour.
The Impreza WRC2007s returned from Monte Carlo on Monday and the pressure was immediately on for the crew to rebuild and re-prepare them in time for initial shakedown runs on Wednesday 30 January.
Suzuki World Rally Team