- Ice and snow – Rally Sweden an anomaly on the WRC calendar
- Volkswagen duos first, second and third in the World Championship standings
- One rally, two countries: route takes in new territory in Norway and familiar ground in Sweden
Paradise for fans of the perfect drift: when Volkswagen lines up at the Rally Sweden, it will do so at the only rally of the season to be held completely on ice and snow. Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) and Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (N/N) come into round two of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) with the wind in their sails. The three Volkswagen duos arrive in the recently-covered host region of Värmland on the back of a historic one-two-three for the Polo R WRC at the recent Rally Monte Carlo. As first, second and third in the overall standings, they now have the honour of opening the route. All three can look back proudly on their past records at the Rally Sweden: Ogier/Ingrassia are the only Central European pairing, besides record champions Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena, ever to have won in Sweden – in 2013 with the Polo R WRC. This also marked Volkswagen’s first success in the WRC. For Latvala/Anttila, Sweden represents the only round of the WRC, at which they have already tasted victory on three occasions – their maiden success in the World Rally Championship in 2008, 2012 and most recently in 2014 with Volkswagen. Andreas Mikkelsen finished runner-up at the 2014 Rally Sweden to claim his very first podium result at the pinnacle of rallying.
“We have nothing but fond memories of the Rally Sweden and travel there with great anticipation every year,” said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. “You never forget the rally, at which you claimed your very first win as a team. Back in 2013 it was one of our highlights in the World Rally Championship with the Polo R WRC. Last year we witnessed some thrilling, all-Volkswagen battles for the victory and it was the first time all three of our drivers showed themselves to be on a par and capable of winning – including our ‘junior’, Andreas Mikkelsen, who more than held his own against Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala. However, all that is history and will once again be going all out to taste success again in 2015. We are undefeated at the Rally Sweden, and would love it to stay that way.”
Power and slides – dream conditions in the forests of Värmland
Welcome to Winter Thunderland: few rallies are as popular with the Volkswagen drivers as the Rally Sweden. The special Sweden spikes on the narrow Michelin tyres generate greater grip on the ice and snow than the crews are used to experiencing on gravel. Will it be a tyre lottery like the one seen at the Rally Monte Carlo then? No chance. The only option is this one specific type of tyre. The conditions are usually very consistent, giving the drivers plenty of confidence in the grip levels. Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen are right at home on this kind of terrain. The best news ahead of this year’s Rally Sweden is the weather forecast: heavy snowfall shortly before the Rally Sweden has created dream conditions in the forests of Värmland.
6.5 millimetres for maximum grip: Sweden spikes are a drifter’s best friend
They are the link between the World Rally Cars and the icy, snow-covered rally roads: the new Michelin X-Ice North 3 tyres, which are used exclusively in Sweden. In other words: Sweden spikes, developed from scratch for 2015. They are narrower than their asphalt and gravel counterparts. However, the most important feature protrudes 6.5 millimetres from the tread – the 380 spikes that literally bite into the snow and ice. Not only are they capable of withstanding temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees, but also extremely high speeds. The Rally Sweden is one of the rounds of the World Championship, at which the average speed exceeds the 100 km/h mark. In 2014, the “Rämmen” special stage was the fastest section of the rally, with competitors averaging 117.69 km/h. The drivers return to this stage on the Saturday of this year’s rally, where it forms special stages 12 and 16.
Foray into Norway means a home outing for Andreas Mikkelsen
The 2014 Rally Sweden was the event that emphatically confirmed his arrival amongst the top drivers in the World Rally Championship: Andreas Mikkelsen has high hopes going into his home event, and can count on the passionate support of his fans. Friday’s route heads out of the Värmland region at rally tempo and over the border into Norway – the home of the 25-year-old Volkswagen driver. Once there, the WRC aces will largely be entering uncharted waters: the “Röjden” special sage, which takes the drivers into Norway, was driven in the opposite direction the last time it featured on the itinerary in 2011. As such, it is basically a new stage for the drivers and co-drivers. “Finnskogen” is also classed as a new stage: only certain sections of last year’s special stage of the same name are to be tackled this year, and in the opposite direction. Only “Kirkenær”, which is also held over the border and represents the largest fan arena in the World Rally Championship, with snow piled into huge walls and thousands of spectators, is almost identical to last year.
The route in Sweden, on the other hand, is tried and tested: the stages on Saturday and Sunday are virtually unchanged from last year. And why change them? “Fredriksberg”, “Rämmen”, “Hagfors Sprint”, “Lesjöfors” and “Värmullsåsen” are genuine classics and form the backbone of the Rally Sweden. However, one stage always stands out from the rest: it is hard to imagine the Rally Sweden without “Vargåsen”, which features the infamous “Colin’s Crest”. The best jumps here are rewarded with the “Colin’s Crest Award” – the trophy named after the ever-courageous Colin McRae. Record holder since 2014: world champion Sébastien Ogier with a distance of 41 metres.
Quotes ahead of the Rally Sweden
Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1
“As with any rally, the winner come the end of the Rally Sweden will be the person who drove fastest, whilst at the same time making the fewest mistakes. Despite this, it is always very special for me to drive in Sweden. No other round of the WRC is held entirely on ice and snow, and I love that. It looks as though we are going to have very good conditions this year. There is a lot of snow on the ground in Sweden, and the cold temperatures in Scandinavia have transformed many sections of the route into skating rinks. I am looking forward to it, and to a fast rally. The only thing that could possibly ruin my fun a little would be fresh snow. That would be a slight disadvantage for the first drivers on the route. All the same, I head to Sweden full of optimism, as the win at the Rally Monte Carlo has given me even more motivation. You could say that the conditions at the Rally Sweden are actually far more predictable than the ‘Monte’, and they will definitely not be as demanding for us drivers.”
Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2
“I learned to drive rally cars on snow and ice. Even as a kid I used to bomb across frozen lakes, so I feel right at home at the Rally Sweden. Early on in my career, the Rally Sweden was actually my very favourite rally, but I now feel comfortable on any surface. With the old Polo R WRC, I always had slight understeer on snow. However, tests show that our new Polo R WRC has improved in this regard. I am particularly looking forward to the ‘Frederiksberg’ and ‘Vargåsen’ stages in Sweden, because you can find a good rhythm on them and these two stages feature some big jumps. The second place at the Rally Monte Carlo also gives me cause for optimism. That was better than I expected. Should I win in Sweden, it would underline my title aspirations. Despite this, I am well aware that, as well as Sébastien, Andreas and the likes of Mads Østberg will also be in contention for the win. You always have to reckon on those guys here.”
Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9
“I associate a lot of positives with the Rally Sweden. Last year I finished on the podium for the first time there. The main features of the Rally Sweden are the fast special stages lined by snowbanks on the roadside. If you find the right snowbanks, which you can lean on, you can gain a lot of time and find yourself up there with the front-runners. If you get it wrong and hit a snowbank that is too soft, your rally can be over just as quickly. I start third on the first couple of days, and the first drivers out will have a disadvantage if there is a lot of snow on the route. As such, I hope the roads are icy, rather than covered in snow. Should that not be the case, I will be aiming for a top-five finish. At the moment, people keep asking me whether I can win with last year’s Polo R WRC. I am convinced that I can and, given the right conditions, the prospect of a maiden win is entirely realistic.”
Three questions for race engineer Richard Browne
The Rally Sweden is seen as the WRC round, at which Andreas Mikkelsen has the best chance of winning his first rally. You are his race engineer. How have you both prepared for the big opportunity?
Richard Browne: “I am sure that many people think that this could be the big rally for Andreas and Ola. However, first and foremost, we must not forget that third place at the ‘Monte’ also means he is third onto the route – and, given the amount of snowfall in Värmland in recent weeks, the early starting position could be an advantage for all those behind him. It will be anything but a stroll in the park. As far as the preparations themselves are concerned, it has been ‘business as usual’ really. Immediately after the Rally Monte Carlo, we started to discuss the initial set-up variants for the test ahead of the Rally Sweden. We also watched and analysed the 2014 Rally Sweden in great depth.”
From an engineer’s point of view, what makes Andreas Mikkelsen so strong at the Rally Sweden?
Richard Browne: “Because he comes from Norway, driving on ice and snow comes completely naturally to Andreas. You can put him in a World Rally car with a snow and ice set-up at any time and he is just quick from the first second. In the meantime, however, he has become an all-rounder. Last year, Andreas claimed five podiums and held his own against Sébastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and the others on each occasion. Three of his podiums were second places – one on gravel, one on ice and snow, and one on asphalt. He is quick on every surface.”
His own expectations, and those of his fans and friends, are immense. As an engineer, what can you and the driver do to ensure he is able to handle these expectations?
Richard Browne: “Andreas has been a regular at the top of the standings since the middle of last year, and he coped well with the pressure and expectations that come with that success. With Volkswagen Motorsport, he has matured into a confident and determined driver over the past two years. During the rally, as soon as one stage is over we immediately start thinking about the next one, working on the tyre strategy, and making the necessary changes to the set-up of the car. We are always looking ahead. There is just one slight difference: we do our analysis on the phone during the liaison stages. By the time Andreas arrives in the media zone, he is in far greater demand among the media at the Rally Sweden than anywhere else.”
The number for the Rally Sweden: 33.2 per cent
In total, 102.38 of the 308.00 kilometres against the clock at this year’s Rally Sweden are new – that is roughly a third (33.2 per cent). They all feature on the itinerary for the Friday of the rally. In Norway, the “Kirkenær” stadium stage is the only special stage that was driven in 2014. In Sweden, on the other hand, 11.7 kilometres of “Torsby” are new, while 3.06 kilometres will be familiar to the drivers from last year. The routes of all the other special stages are identical – particularly those on Saturday and Sunday.