Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart will bring a formidable blend of youth and experience to the Swedish Rally, the second round of the 2002 FIA World Rally Championship. For the first time this year, the team will enter three Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution WRCs, as promising Finn Jani Paasonen will join regular duo Francois Delecour of France and Britain's Alister McRae.
Voted 'Rally of the Year' jointly with Rally New Zealand by the Manufacturers taking part in the FIA World Rally Championship, the Swedish Rally is based in its traditional home, Karlstad in central Sweden, 250km west of the capital, Stockholm. It is the most wintry event in the 14-round World Rally Championship calendar, for although the weather isn't entirely predictable, sub-zero temperatures are near-certain, with abundant snow and ice. In cold years, the temperature can plunge to -30 degrees Celsius and the drivers thread their way down forest tracks between high snowbanks. Milder weather in recent weeks means that there are few snowbanks at the moment, but the stages are frozen hard, lower temperatures are forecast and a high-speed battle on ice is in prospect.
Although it is the most slippery round of the World Championship, the Swedish is also one of the quickest, thanks to the use of studded tyres. Detailed work with Michelin has played its part in giving Mitsubishi an outstanding Swedish record, with five victories in the last 11 years. The studs provide extraordinary levels of grip and contribute greatly to the spectacle. Despite the cold, the rally is a fans' delight and it attracts larger crowds than any other sports event in Sweden.
Francois Delecour and co-driver Daniel Grataloup are one of the most experienced crews in the World Championship and while they are not regarded as Swedish specialists, Delecour is cautiously confident about his prospects in the Michelin-equipped Lancer Evolution WRC.
"The car has been good in testing, but we will have to wait until the rally to find out if we are fully competitive. It's not easy to tell in testing, because you don't have any reference point with other drivers and there are so many changes with other teams and drivers this year. It is a nice rally to drive anyway," Delecour commented.
Alister McRae and David Senior are preparing to take part in their sixth Swedish, their first for Mitsubishi. McRae views the rally with a good deal more confidence than the Monte Carlo.
"I liked the feel of the car in testing and I think we should be closer to the pace in Sweden. It can be a difficult rally if the conditions are a bit inconsistent, but it's an event that all the drivers like and I have a lot more experience there than in Monte Carlo," McRae said.
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart has high hopes of its Lancer Evolution WRC third crew, Finns Jani Paasonen and Arto Kapanen. Paasonen is a former winner of the Group N production class on the Swedish in a Mitsubishi and has displayed a sensational turn of speed in every car he has driven.
"Naturally, I don't quite know what to expect, because this will be my first rally in a Lancer Evolution WRC, but I like this rally very much and the conditions should be good for us. I hope we can do something special," Paasonen said.
Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart team manager Derek Dauncey is convinced that the Swedish offers the team exciting possibilities.
"Sweden's a completely different ballgame to Monte Carlo. We had a good test with Alister and Jani before Christmas and we think we'll be competitive. Jani adapted to the car very quickly. He's shown his form in the past and we've given him an opportunity to see how he gets on. He's under no pressure, but we think he could get into the points. Alister showed a good turn of speed too and we're sure Francois will do a very professional job after his test just before the rally," Dauncey said.
This year's Swedish runs from 1-3 February. Divided into three legs, it covers 1,876 kilometres and includes 16 stages, totalling 381 kilometres. Each of the three leg loops around the town of Hagfors, 80 kilometres north of Karlstad, and they are almost identical in terms of competitive distance. The first leg has the lowest stage distance, its five stages covering 124 kilometres, but it includes the first run at the longest stage of the rally, the 40-kilometre Granberget test. The second leg's five stages total 129 kilometres, while the last covers 128 and promises a real sting in the tail, with a 39-kilometre stage to conclude the rally.
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