Sweden played host to the second round of the World Rally Championship this weekend, but there was something different, something unusual for those watching and attending. Yes, it’s a distinct lack of snow. Rally Sweden’s USP has always been the massive amounts of snow, giving unique scenery and a unique challenge for the drivers and teams as the cars run on studded tyres.
There was drama before the rally even got underway, with talks of the event potentially being cancelled due to the lack of snow. The decision was taken to run the event, but with a shortened route, the Swedish countryside resembling Wales & Finland instead of the snow covered wonderland it normally is. The reason for the lack of snow was unseasonably high temperatures which had seen very little in the way of snowfall leading up to the rally.
Overnight thursday saw ice form on the stages with a dusting of snow, but with exposed gravel being the order of the day as the cars took to the stages in anger on Friday morning. It was Welshman Elfyn Evans who once again set the pace as he did in Monte Carlo. Ott Tanak, fresh and recovered after his monster crash in Monte Carlo set about chasing Evans down in his Hyundai i20.
At the head of the pack Evans & Tanak traded fastest times, but it was clear that Elfyn was more comfortable in the Toyota Yaris than Tanak was in the Hyundai i20, Tanak attributing this to a lack of seat time in the Hyundai. Toyota newcomer Kalle Rovanperra kept the Tanak and Evans in his sights after a stunning display of speed from the young Finn. Sebastien Ogier rounded out the day in fourth, but found his pace wanting compared to his younger teammates, seeking to change the set up of his car to suit the tricky conditions. Esapekka Lappi finished the day in fifth and like Ogier was looking to tweak the set up of the car to find pace on those ahead of him. Monte Carlo winner Thierry Neuville wound in sixth after day one, Neuville was the first car on the days stages and struggled badly as he swept the road for the following cars.
Jari-Matti Latvala’s return to Sweden was short lived in a fourth Toyota Yaris. The experienced Latvala found his Toyota was constantly cutting out, this lost time was exacerbated by a spin and the engine issues became terminal, seeing Latvala retire before the close of the final stage.
Saturday saw conditions not too dissimilar to Friday, although slightly higher overnight temperatures meant the stages had softened a little, which meant the studded tyres would be under immense stress compared to the Friday. Elfyn Evans got straight to work and dominated the days proceedings, doubling his lead over the chasing Ott Tanak who was still struggling to get comfortable in the Hyundai i20. Kalle Rovanperra and Sebastien Ogier duked it out for third place throughout the day, the pair leapfrogging one another on a stage by stage basis; eventually it was Ogier who rounded out the top three with Rovanperra a scant 0.5 of a second behind in fourth.
Esapekka Lappi had a strong showing on Saturday, fending off a charging Thierry Neuville who was gaining pace after a challenging start to the rally on Friday. Lappi would finish Saturday in fifth place, less than a second ahead of Neuville.
On Saturday, the news broke that Sunday would see just the Wolf Power Stage being run, this to protect the road as there were two planned runs through the Likenas test, the first run in the morning cancelled as a result.
Sunday dawned, but with no morning running, it was a winner takes all showdown going into the Wolf Power stage. Elfyn Evans, with an already commanding lead, took the rally victory, but was unable to secure any bonus points in the final power stage. Ott Tanak finished second in the overall standings and managed to claim two points in the Power Stage. Kalle Rovanperra finished third overall, but took victory in the power stage after a breakout event for the young Finn. Sebastien Ogier finished in fourth and last of the Toyotas as Toyota’s young guns shone bright, Ogier claimed three points in the Power Stage. Esapekka Lappi rounded out the top five and secured a single bonus point from the Power Stage, just behind in sixth place was Thierry Neuville although Neuville claimed four points in the Power Stage to tie Elfyn Evans at the top of the leaderboard.
The next round of the World Rally Championship is Rally Mexico and takes place March 12th-15th.
Rally Sweden Results:
- Elfyn Evans
- Ott Tanak
- Kalle Rovanperra
- Sebastien Ogier
- Esapekka Lappi
- Thierry Neuville
- Craig Breen
- Teemu Sunninen
- Elfyn Evans – 42 points
- Thierry Neuville – 42 points
- Sebastien Ogier – 37 points
- Kalle Rovanperra – 30 points
- Esapekka Lappi – 24 points
- Ott Tanak – 20 points
- Teemu Sunninen – 11 points
- Sebastien Loeb – 8 points
- Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – 73 points
- Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team – 63 points
- M-Sport Ford World Rally Team – 40 points