Rally Sweden 2006: Stobart M-Sport Ford - Preview
Just over a week after finishing one of the toughest rallies of his short career, 18-year-old Cumbrian Matthew Wilson will step up to the plate again for round two of the World Rally Championship in Sweden.
event offers just as much of a challenge as the Monte Carlo Rally, where Matthew finished 15th on his first attempt. The Swedish is one of the fastest events in the world; on its 350km route, last year's winning average speed was over 110kph. And that's on a surface where you would struggle to stand.
The reason the drivers can manage such incredible speeds on the frozen Scandinavian roads is the narrow tyres they use, each coming complete with 384 studs. The BF Goodrich tyres Matthew and Stobart VK M-Sport Ford World Rally team-mates Kosti Katajamaki and Luis Perez Companc will use in Sweden are only 145mm wide, compared with a 225mm tyre used on dry asphalt. The benefit of this narrow rubber is two-fold: it cuts through deep snow and increases the pressure on the tyre's footprint. The 1,230 kilos of a World Rally Car is pushed through four contact patches, each no bigger than the average hand, with the four tyres constantly having 50 studs in the road through that patch.
That's all very well when the conditions are perfect – a couple of inches of snow covering a hard-packed ice base. The reality on recent Swedish rallies has been, however, that snow and ice coverage can be scarce.
In which case, Matthew and the others will have to learn very quickly about the art of protecting their studs. If the snow has melted from part of the stage, there's every chance the studs will overheat when they come into contact with gravel. When that happens they start to pop out of the tyres, which is no use when you do find some snow in the braking area for a corner. As on every rally, it's the mark of a good driver to look after his tyres. That's yet another challenge for Matthew as he goes into chapter two of 2006: his first Swedish.
“Unlike the last round in Monte Carlo, I have got a vague idea of what to expect from this rally. I did three snow rallies in Finland a little over a year ago, so I have driven on the stuff before. Again, it's going to be an amazing experience to arrive at the second WRC round knowing that I'm part of it all. One of the differences to Monte will be the speed, it's so quick in Sweden – nothing like some of the slower hairpins on round one. This will be flat-out motoring. When I drove on snow in Finland the thing which amazed me most was the grip.
“Everybody tells you it's the same as gravel, but until you're in there and drifting the car at some incredible speeds, you can't believe it. It's probably the braking that really gets me, though. Because the snow builds up in front of the wheel to slow you down even more, you can brake harder and later than you would ever have thought possible. It's going to be another fantastic experience!”
“I don't have any experience of driving the Ford Focus RS WRC, but I have driven a World Rally Car before, when I tackled the Finnish Championship last year. The entry for this event is very strong this week, so it's hard to predict what would be a good result. Really I need experience of the car, so a finish with some good times in the stages would be nice for me.”
Malcolm Wilson, Team Principal
“Matthew learned a great deal from getting to the end of that first event in Monte Carlo and that's what we're looking for him to do in Sweden. At the same time, though, I remember from when I was driving on this event – it's an amazing feeling to slide the car in the snow. It's a fabulous rally from a drivers' point of view.”
Until two years ago, the Swedish Rally had been dominated by local drivers. In 2004, Frenchman Sebastien Loeb
became the first non-Nordic to win on the snow and ice.
Like Finland, which comes later in the season, the Swedish is an exceptionally specialised event, requiring utter confidence in the car and your own ability to control it when it's sideways at 160kph. The drivers have always loved this event, even though – as with all current World Rally Championship rounds – it's a much smaller and more compact route than it used to be. Earlier in the rally's 55-year history, the organisers used to run stages on frozen lakes and even set the cars off in unison to drift their way around the trotting tracks, pleasing the chilled spectators with their ultra-sideways slides.
Former world champion and Swedish Rally legend Stig Blomqvist deserves special mention, as this will be his 40th time competing on this event.
Press release Stobart M-Sport Ford