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WRC Preview: Rally Sweden

Written by Katie Gregory, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri


Image Credit - WRC

Following an incredible first round in Monte Carlo, the World Rally Championship travels to Sweden for one of the most difficult events of the year. The drivers will all be aiming to conquer the snowy, unforgiving terrain which showcases high-speed straights and staggering jumps. 


There will be 18 stages around Umeå, covering an overall distance of 742 miles. The circuit is one of the fastest on the calendar, and studded tyres are fitted to provide much-needed grip to the icy landscape. 


The bravest drivers will stay flat out, even through the narrowest corners of Northern Sweden. The snow banks can either be a crew’s greatest friend or worst enemy, depending on their approach. They can be useful when turning, but too much speed, coupled with a lack of precision could ruin a driver’s time, risking valuable points. 


Image Credit - Red Bull

If you missed the season opener, you may not be familiar with the new WRC points scoring system. The most noteworthy change comes in the form of an opportunity to earn points throughout the rally, and not just at the end, despite 30 remaining the perfect score. 


First place on Saturday will bring home 18 points, while tenth place will pick up one point. Sunday provides drivers a chance to recover from any Saturday setbacks, first place will be awarded seven points, while seventh place will be handed one point. 


The home advantage here is simply impossible to ignore, as drivers who grew up racing in the snow go particularly well here. So much so, since its inaugural event in 1950, there have only been five winners from outside Scandinavia. 


Of these non-Scandinavian winners, five are racing this season, and hope to secure success in Sweden. 


Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville is one former winner, with a fighting chance, more so after winning the first round in Monte Carlo by a margin of 16.1 seconds. 


Neuville will aim to do the double and start a winning streak, but he will certainly have healthy competition. You don’t need to look far to find the competition, as fellow Hyundai driver Ott Tänak is the latest winner of Rally Sweden. 


Tänak struggled with engine issues and ended up fourth in the first round; nevertheless, he showed promise in the I20 N car by winning a stage on Saturday morning. Additionally, Hyundai driver Esapekka Lappi has won here before, and grew up racing in these very conditions.


Thierry Neuville secured victory in Monte Carlo; Credit - WRC

A little further from home, Neuville will find a worthy opponent within Sébastien Ogier. The Toyota ace has won Rally Sweden thrice, and was the first Frenchman ever to do so. Ogier also finished second to Neuville in the first round, and will be itching to make an impression in the second.


However, Ogier is not the only wildcard that Toyota has to show off in Sweden. Double world champion, and Finn Kalle Rovanperä will commence his part-time WRC campaign in Sweden, previously crowned victor in 2022.  


Toyota’s lineup also boasts former Rally Sweden victor Elfyn Evans, who showed strong pace in Monte Carlo — undeterred by hybrid unit problems. Despite his speed in Monaco, Evans settled for bringing home as many points as possible, instead of gambling for the victory. 


An approach like this for Rally Sweden is definitely warranted, having crashed out from second place in a futile attempt at first, back in 2022. A points focused approach may mean Evans won't taste glory this weekend, but the potential sacrifice could pay off in a championship victory later this year.


Elfyn Evans and his co-driver Scott Martin after winning Rally Sweden in 2020; Credit - Goodwood.com

An honourable mention goes to the M-Sport Ford lineup, an exciting prospect within itself. With both drivers promoted from Rally2 for 2024, and when announced, many wrote off the lineup as uncompetitive.


However, these presumptions were answered straight from the Monaco Alps, with both drivers showing immense pace and precision. 


Frenchman Adrien Fourmax had a mega drive, finishing fifth, while Belgian driver Grégoire Munster placed eighth. On that topic of fresh talent, Rally Sweden will be the first round of the FIA 2024 Junior WRC, which will consist of five rounds across the season.


The action-packed event will total 300.1km, and begins on Thursday, featuring a 5.16km night stage, before seven stages on Friday. Saturday is the biggest challenge, with a distance of 125.96km set to be covered throughout the day. The drivers will give one final push on Sunday, with a 10.08km Power Stage closing the weekend.


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