KARLSTAD, Sweden - Five Fiesta RS WRCs will represent M-Sport and the State of Qatar as the FIA World Rally Championship embarks on the snow-covered stages of Rally Sweden later this week.
Back in its traditional slot as round two of the season following Rally Monte-Carlo’s return to the calendar, Rally Sweden will continue to spread its wings in 2012 with almost the entire competitive route on day one taking place in neighbouring Norway. Running for a 60th time, the event will once again be based in Karlstad.
Featuring 360 competitive kilometres over 24 stages, 11 of which will be run twice, the rally, which gets underway with a superspecial stage at Karlstad’s trotting track, has undergone a number of changes for 2012.
The bulk of Friday’s stages will take place in Norway with a remote service halt in the town of Kongsvinger.
Following a regroup in Torsby, back across the border in Sweden, crews will service in Hagfors before returning to Karlstad for a second run of the city’s superspecial stage.
Day two’s action includes classic stages, such as Sagen, Fredriksberg and Vargasen, which features the famous Colin’s Crest jump, named in memory of the late Colin McRae. Saturday’s itinerary will also include a run through the Hagfors arena stage a short drive from the permanent service park.
Sunday’s stages take place around Hagfors and include runs through Rammen and Hafors. The Hagfors Power Stage will bring the action to a close. It’s the same stage as Varmullsasen in 2010. Measuring 15.42 kilometres in length, it could prove pivotal to the outcome of the rally.
Traditionally the only true winter event of the year, Rally Sweden presents a unique challenge as teams battle sub-zero temperatures in the heart of Värmland. To best cope with these conditions, the Fiestas are clad with Michelin’s skinny winter tyres – each fitted with over 380 tungsten-tipped studs which cut through the soft snow to capture grip on the hard ice beneath.
But it’s not just the cars that need to make provisions for the harsh conditions. To best combat the bitter cold and bright snow, crews are equipped with boot warmers and anti-glare glasses. Drivers can also ‘lean’ their cars against the solid snow banks that line the stages to help guide their Fiestas around icy corners at high speed. But ‘lean’ too hard and they risk losing precious minutes having to dig themselves free from the compacted snow.
However, with the region witnessing a much milder winter of late, the team could well encounter a slightly different landscape to the winter wonderland which has become synonymous with Rally Sweden. Melting snow and exposed gravel could make tyre preservation of vital importance and, as conditions dictate, the team can expect some lengthy discussions to decipher the optimum running order for the first full day of competition.
Having made a solid start to the season on his Monte-Carlo debut last month, Mads Østberg will be out to make an impact. The 25-year-old is strong on what is effectively his home event and has made the podium on his two previous outings.
Making his 2013 debut in the WRC, Nasser Al-Attiyah will also be back in action as he leads the Qatar World Rally Team’s campaign on the wintry stages. Fresh from a record-breaking tenth victory at the Qatar International Rally, the Qatari will be looking for a strong result as he swaps the sand dunes for the snow banks.
Stop press: Nasser Al-Attiyah will not compete in Rally Sweden because of illness. Standing in for the Qatari is Britain’s Matthew Wilson.