MOTORSPORT NEWS Rally

Chasing success on Sweden’s snow-covered stages of Rally Sweden

M-Sport’s Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs will take to the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship this week.After securing victory at the opening round of the season, M-Sport’s are quietly confident of challenging for another strong result. Having proved its performance, the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC secured seven fastest stage times at Rallye Monte-Carlo, but the Cumbrian squad have not let the taste of champagne distract them from the job in hand.

Completing two separate five-day tests in the lead-up to the only snow rally of the year, the team have worked on further improvements as well as developing the ideal set-up for Sweden’s unique and challenging terrain.

Having historically performed well at the Scandinavian fixture, the Blue Oval’s popularity is highlighted by M-Sport’s range of Ford Fiesta rally cars accounting for 50 percent of the entry.

Rally Sweden a unique winter rally

Unique to the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Sweden is the only true winter event on the calendar. Let loose in their gravel specification, the Ford Fiesta WRCs will reach incredible speeds as studded tyres bite through the snow to capture grip on the hard ice below.

A traditional Rally Sweden can see temperatures as low as -20˚C and hard-packed snowbanks which allow the crews to guide their cars through corners at tremendous speed. In recent years however, milder conditions have provided further challenges.

The warmer conditions see compacted snow replaced by loose snowbanks and there is an ever-present risk of becoming ensnared in their icy grasp. If that weren’t enough, tyre management is also key. On ice-covered stages, tungsten-tipped steel studs are a driver’s best friend but, as the temperatures hover above zero, protruding gravel can rip them from the tyres which result in a substantial lack of traction.

This year, the service park moves north to Torsby with stages deep in the frozen forests of both Sweden and Norway. Almost 58 percent of the route has been revised compared to 2016 and includes a brand-new stage – Hof-Finnskog – which has never before been seen in competition.

Malcolm Wilson The Team Principal

Team Principal Malcolm Wilson was delighted with the team’s performance at Rallye Monte-Carlo but remains aware of the challenges ahead and the work required to continue at the highest level.

Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:  “We’ve had a fantastic start to the season, but the hard work has not stopped. Making a return to the top-step of the podium was exactly what our team deserved, but we’re fully aware that the hard work must continue if we want to achieve our objectives and regularly challenge at the head of the field.

“Rally Sweden is a unique event but it’s also an event where we have historically performed well. Sébastien has won the event three times which is very impressive for a non-Scandinavian and Ott loves the high speed so I think we can be quietly confident of challenging for the podium positions once again.

“Sweden is notorious for close-fought competition, and success will not come without hard work and preparation. We know that we have a good base car in the Fiesta, but we are under no illusions about how closely the championship will be contested this year.

“We’ve had a brilliant start, but all four manufacturers have the potential to secure victory next week and we will need to be at the top of our game if we are to secure another podium result. It’s what we are all aiming for, but it won’t be easy.”

Ogier and Ingrassia The Four-Time World Champions

When it comes to Rally Sweden, the Scandinavians reign supreme. Only two men have ever contradicted that rule, and Sébastien Ogier has done so on three separate occasions – making him the most successful ‘outsider’ in the history of the event.

Coming off the back of a dream start with the M-Sport team, Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia could well secure another strong result next week and should never be discounted when it comes to the fight for the podium positions.

Previous starts: 7
Best result: 1st (2016, 2015 and 2013)

Sébastien Ogier said: “We had a dream start to the season at Rallye Monte-Carlo, but we can’t let that distract us. There is still a lot of work to do and Rally Sweden is a truly unique event.

“It’s an event that I really enjoy and we reach incredible speeds on the snow and ice – something that will only increase with the new cars this year. That means that there are no margins for error and you have to be very precise. There are often just a handful of seconds separating each competitor, so every second really does count.

“If we can secure another podium result next week, it would be a fantastic start and surpass all of our expectations this early in the year. I see no reason why we can’t be quietly confident of that, but at the same time it will require a lot of hard work behind the scenes.

“We’ve not yet seen everyone’s true potential, and I’m expected a very exciting and very close-fought Rally Sweden.”

Tänak and Järveoja – A determined new partnership

When it comes to Ott Tänak, one thing is for certain – he relishes high-speed rallies. Rally Sweden sees some of the highest speeds of the year and the Estonian will undoubtedly be one to watch.

A Swedish podium may have eluded Tänak in the past, but he and co-driver Martin Järveoja have every chance of putting that right next week. His best result of fourth came in 2015 and since then he has gained a wealth of knowledge, experience and fortitude – all of which could see him break into the top-three.

Previous starts: 5
Best result: 4th (2015)

Ott Tänak said: “I’m really looking forward to Rally Sweden. It’s one of my favourite events on the calendar and the high-speed stages give you such an adrenaline rush. This year, with the more powerful cars, it will be something very special.

“The stages are so much fun to drive – really fast and flowing, and very smooth. We need to be relaxed and focused and get into a good rhythm. I hope for nice ice conditions and to be in a position to fight at the top.

“The most important thing will be to have a good feeling from the start and then have a clean run. Hopefully the weather conditions will be in our favour and we can have some nice snowbanks to give us some extra support if needed.

“The lines are also very narrow and that’s maybe the most difficult part of the rally. In case of fresh snow you need to make sure you stay in the line – otherwise you go from good grip to no grip at all!

“I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel, and I think we have the potential to secure another good result.”

M-Sport