Sweden : PWRC - Summary
P-WRC virgin Juho Hänninen (FIN, Mitsubishi) and co-driver Mikko Markkula drove an almost perfect rally to win their first P-WRC victory on the opening round of the 2007 FIA Production Car World Rally Championship, Uddeholm Swedish Rally. Over two
minutes adrift was local Guest Driver Oscar Svedlund (S, Subaru) in second, followed by Anton Alén (FIN, Subaru) another minute behind in third.
In what is set to be one of the most hotly contested Production Car WRCs in its 20 year history, the opening round, as expected, was dominated by Scandinavian drivers who have grown up in such extreme sub-zero conditions. Kristian Sohlberg (FIN, Subaru) made his mark on the rally from the first stage proper leading until SS13, but Hänninen, Svedlund and Alén stayed on his tail. Alén dropped a couple of minutes with a puncture on leg two and three minor offroad excursions for Sohlberg saw Hänninen pass his fellow Finn to end the second day in the lead. With Championship points at stake for two of the top three drivers, nobody was willing to sacrifice points for victory, with Hänninen holding position, winning the Sprinter Standings en route.
Disaster struck for Sohlberg when his front left driveshaft broke on SS16 and he dropped from second to fourth by the middle of leg three. With a more comfortable gap ahead, Svedlund took no risks on the last day to finish second and Alén, son of one of the most successful WRC drivers of all time held third, despite a number of issues on leg two and a slight off on SS16.
Considering the P-WRC's sole Portuguese competitor had only contested one snow rally before the Swedish event, which was the Arctic Rally a few weeks ago, Armindo Araujo (Mitsubishi) had a great drive, finishing best of the non-Scandinavians. He spun twice on SS2 but once he had found a rhythm he steadily built up his confidence only to be knocked slightly with another spin on SS7 and reduced engine power with a blocked filter. Unfortunately he finished the second day with a clutch that didn't work but after changing it for the final day he fought hard to finish in fifth.
A battle was on between Alexander Dorosinskiy (RUS, Subaru), Fumio Nutahara (J, Mitsubishi) and defending PWRC champion Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT, Subaru). The latter two were ahead but a puncture for Nutahara and a blocked radiator for Al-Attiyah on SS10, saw the Russian jump ahead. But an engine problem for Dorosinskiy saw him retire at the end of leg two, promoting the Japanese and Qatari into sixth and seventh. Al-Attiyah ended up sliding off the road on leg three and eventually took the final available point for eighth.
Toshi Arai (J, Subaru) didn't make a good start to the rally as he went off the road on SS2 but more damaging was dropping from fifth to 11th overall after he rolled in to a ditch on SS10, struggling with tricky road surface changes and losing six minutes in the process. He had another off on leg three but captured seventh after Al-Attiyah went off.
Fabio Frisiero (I, Mitsubishi) had a difficult start which was partly due to having not competed for over a year. Then a regrettable mistake on leg one when he forgot to change his tyres meant he ran the entire first day on the same set. A tricky tyre change after a puncture on leg two dropped the Italian eight minutes further down the order by he eventually enjoyed the rest of his rally, to finish in ninth.
Red Bull-backed Andreas Aigner (Mitsubishi) made a good start but an over-zealous push on a downhill section on SS5 saw the Austrian go off the road, hit two trees and damage the steering in the process. A little unnerved after the accident and driving with some suspension issues, he continued more steadily on leg three, but still managed to go off the road again before finally finishing tenth.
Mirco Baldacci (RSM, Mitsubishi) held fifth for the best part of leg two but the San Marino driver had difficulty adapting to the changing road conditions, and on SS12 a broken gear stick meant he had to change gear using the remaining stump. On his first ever outing in a Subaru, he struggled with understeering throughout and misfortune struck on SS16 when a frozen windscreen reduced visibility and he went of the road. With time penalties added, he finished 11th.
On his first ever snow event, Loris Baldacci (RSM, Subaru), Mirco's younger brother, had a tricky start as he went off the road on SS6 where he was stuck for about twenty minutes. With a bit of help from spectators he eventually rejoined the stage. Things didn't get much better as he had three punctures on leg two but he finished the rally smiling in 12th place.
Riccardo Errani (I, Mitsubishi) had a difficult event as he stopped a couple of times on leg one with electrical problems and complained later of not being happy with the engine mapping. But he drove steadily to finish 13th..
Jimmy Joge (S), the second Guest Driver entered into the rally by the event organisers, made the world competition debut of the Peugeot 207 S2000. After a promising start finishing sixth on the Karlstad superspecial stage, disappointment struck when an unexplained gearbox problem sidelined the Swedish crew on SS2.
Martin Prokop's (CZ, Mitsubishi) rally started badly and didn't get any better, although the fact that he has driven a S1600 car and not sat in a Lancer for the last four years, may be a contributing factor. On SS2 he was hindered by a puncture, and then stopped early with a broken differential. He restarted leg two only to be sidelined again with a broken wheel rim, and restarted for the final leg, only to retire again with two punctures on SS19.
Mark Higgins (GB, Mitsubishi) had a difficult first day as the ECU activated its safety mode early on. He struggled a bit later in the day but stepped up his pace on leg two, reaching sixth at best by SS11. His luck turned during SS10 as he found himself stuck behind Al-Attiyah for 10km and then slid off the road two stages later, taking almost six minutes to rejoin the stage. Bad luck continued, however, as he went off the road on SS16, one kilometre before Al-Attiyah, sliding into retirement.
1st – Juho Hänninen, Mitsubishi Lancer EvoIX : “This is a very, very important win for me here – to get 10 points at the start of the season is great. We're driving a World Rally Car in Norway next week but the P-WRC is our main focus this year so I'm very happy.”
2nd – Oscar Svedlund, Subaru Impreza WRX STI : “It's fantastic! I'm very happy with second. At the start of today the gaps were so big that there was no point in pushing hard and taking risks and it's a good result on my home rally.”
3rd – Anton Alén, Subaru Impreza WRX STI : “I'm a bit disappointed as I would like to have won here but I have to be realistic as it's my first time so it's good experience. Six points is a good start to the Championship.”