The second round of the 2020 World Rally Championship will go ahead this week, but only just – and with some trepidation. Rally Sweden is the WRC’s only true snow rally, a fabulous event that offers a unique challenge and spectacle. But only when there is actual snow.
An unseasonal lack of the white stuff left organisers with a terrible dilemma: cancel the rally at a huge cost when late flurries could still arrive anyway – or go ahead and risk a snowless rally on roads softened by weeks of rain that can be badly cut up by rally tyres. There are safety as well as local environmental concerns, for a rally designed specifically around being run against a traditional wintry backdrop.
For better or for worse, the organisers have taken the decision to press ahead and we shall see what weather awaits the crews when the action kicks off on Thursday evening. Eight stages have been cut and the route moved further north to chase the snow. A pair of stages – run on Friday and repeated on Saturday – will actually take place over the border in Norway, and with just 40 stage miles each on the first two days, and only 26 on Sunday, Rally Sweden will add up to just 106 across 11 special stages.
But if that sounds underwhelming, there is still much to keep us gripped – whether it’s run on snow or in slushy mud. Thierry Neuville took the initiative on the Monte Carlo Rally last month for Hyundai, his decisive victory putting a clear marker down to his new world champion team-mate Ott Tänak. How Tänak responds, especially in the context of his and co-driver Martin Järveoja’s lucky escape from a huge accident, will be a key point of focus.
Then there is Elfyn Evans, who kicked off his fresh WRC chapter with Toyota in fabulous form on the Monte. The Welshman could well have won were it not for Neuville’s stunning turn of speed on the final day, and appears to be a genuine challenger to new team-mate, six-time world champion Sébastien Ogier.
If Evans can maintain such form in Sweden (and Norway), we might be tempted to wonder whether there’s a sniff of him becoming Britain’s first world rally champion since the late Richard Burns way back in 2001. Let’s see if he’s made of the ‘white’ stuff (sorry…).