Sweden : Mitsubishi / PCWRC - Preview
The world's fastest rally cars and drivers will gather in Sweden for this week's opening round of the FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, with the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution well represented and among the favourites for a win
on some of Scandinavia's most exciting frozen roads. This year's calendar contains eight rounds and will feature action in Sweden, Mexico, Argentina, Greece, New Zealand, Japan, Ireland and Britain.
Fumio Nutahara, the Japanese driver who won three rounds of the all-Group N series last season, will return for the 2007 season. Once again, Nutahara has Englishman Daniel Barritt alongside him. "This is my third season in the Production Car WRC," said Nutahara. "This year I am hoping to get the title."
Britain is also represented at the front of the drivers' field this time around, with Mark Higgins also driving a latest-specification Lancer Evolution IX. Higgins has tackled the Production Car WRC twice previously and, having driven World Rally Cars at the highest level, is well-acquainted with what is takes to succeed in this sport. Like Nutahara, Higgins is a multiple winner of his own domestic rally championship.
Finland's Juho Haninen is new to the ranks for this season. Hanninen surprised many when he burst onto the World Rally Championship scene last season, scoring a brace of Group N victories in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution on his first two outings at the highest level.
Now, however, he will take on the challenge of stringing those performances together over the course of a season as he aims to lift the Production prize in his debut season. Another driver to watch out for on his maiden Production programme will be Austria's Andreas Aigner. He was a factory driver last season and has the backing of legendary German pilot Armin Schwarz behind him. Aigner will also drive a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX through the year.
Sweden is certainly going to be a tough place to start the Production Car WRC season. The snow and ice demands an exceptional level of car control, particularly given that these drivers will be pushing their Mitsubishis at speeds well in excess of 160kp/h. The series' winter rally makes specific demands on both man and machine, but Higgins is confident the opening encounter of the 2007 will be a classic. Mitsubishis once again prove to be an exceptionally popular choice for the drivers; with 22 Lancer Evolutions in Sweden. Eight of those are Production competitors, with more Mitsubishi drivers joining the series on its second round in Mexico in a month's time.
On top of the Production Car action, there will also be two Mitsubishi Lancer WRC05s challenging for honours at the front of the field. Finland's Toni Gardemeister and Xavier Pons (Spain) are certain to be among the pacesetters on the Swedish Rally. The Lancer WRC05 demonstrated both pace and reliability on the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship, when Gardemeister guided his Mitsubishi to a points-scoring debut in Monte Carlo.
The mainstay of the competitive action on this year's Swedish Rally is book-ended with two superspecial stages of 1.86km in the host town of Karlstad on Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon. From Friday morning until Sunday afternoon, the competitors head north from Karlstad, however, staying in the town of Hagfors, which contains the central service park. The other 18 stages, divided between three legs, will run 1730.35km including 342.15km of Special stages along forest roads surrounding Hagfors. After a mild early winter, snow and freezing temperatures have arrived in Scandinavia, ensuring the perfect conditions for what is one of the drivers' favourite rallies of the season.