Rally Sweden will be a brand new challenge for the Monster Sport Europe Suzuki Ignis team, which competes on the World Championship's only snow event for the first time. Sweden does not form part of the Junior World Rally Championship, but Suzuki is entering two cars on the event – for reigning champion P-G Andersson and Englishman Guy Wilks - in order to accumulate experience for a possible assault on the world series at the highest level.
Although Sweden is probably the most slippery rally of the World Championship, it is also one of the fastest. The snowy stages are lined by thick snowbanks, which drivers use to negotiate corners a bit like bobsleighs! But it is important not to lean on the banks too much, otherwise the car will crash through them and get stuck in deep snow. The challenge is even greater for the two-wheel drive Suzuki Ignis, which does not have the total traction of a World Rally Car. This means that Andersson and Wilks will have to concentrate even harder on keeping a clean line and not making any mistakes.
In order to generate grip on the icy gravel roads, all cars run on skinny studded snow tyres that bite through snow into the harder surfaces underneath. But snowfall has been less than average this year, meaning that patches of loose gravel will often characterise the stages. This gravel can rip out tyre studs, making the roads even more difficult than usual. So tyre degradation is yet another key issue on this highly tactical and specialised event.
P-G Andersson has the advantage of local knowledge: up until last year Rally Sweden had never been won by a non-Scandinavian. P-G is a winner of the Swedish Super 1600 Championship for the last two years running, so he has a clear idea of what to expect from his home round of the World Rally Championship.
Guy Wilks has driven Rally Sweden only once before, with a Group N car in 2002. However, a mechanical failure put him out after day one and a Super 1600 Ignis will be a very different experience on snow. Nonetheless the Englishman is a very quick learner and he feels confident of a creditable result.
Guy commented: "Obviously Sweden is P-G's back garden and I have to respect that. But we have always been competitive with each other everywhere in the past, so I see no reason why it shouldn't be the same now. We only have two-wheel drive in a Super 1600 car, so the key will be to keep everything neat and tidy in order to carry speed through the corners. If we have a firmer surface - such as ice or gravel - that will probably suit our car better than a very loose surface."
Monster Sport Europe Team Manager Risto Laine said: "We will be doing a short test north of Karlstad on the Monday before the rally, which will be quite important as it will be our first experience of the car in these tricky conditions."
A third Super 1600 Ignis will be driven by Swede Peter Zachredsson on his home event. Zachredsson - a close friend of former Suzuki driver Daniel Carlsson - will drive the same Ignis used by P-G Andersson to win the Swedish Championship last year.
The Rally Sweden gets underway with a ceremonial start in Karlstad on the evening of Thursday February 10 but the real action starts the following Friday morning with the first of 20 snowy stages. Centralised service takes place to the north in Hagfors, with the finish back in Karlstad at 1500 (CET) on Sunday February 13th.
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