The Subaru World Rally Team heads to the long and winding forest routes of Rally Sweden ready to tackle the challenge of all-out sideways action as crews wrestle their machines across sheet ice. The only specialist snow rally of the year, it is one of the fastest and most competitive as WRC crews battle to prove their mettle on the only wholly ice-covered speed tests they will encounter all year.
Travelling to the city of Karlstad for the event that has honed the skills of so many past greats, it is clear to see how the conditions develop the flamboyant mastery of Scandinavians behind the wheel. Aboard his Subaru Impreza WRC2007, Petter Solberg is no exception. The Norwegian grew up driving cars on the tundra of his homeland and won here in 2005, finishing on the podium twice since joining the team.
There is a finite skill demonstrated on few other events of flicking the car into the long and twisting corners and ‘leaning’ against the snow banks, literally using them to guide the car through the icy corners. Rally Sweden is the first competitive outing for Pirelli’s Sottozero ice tyre. The skinny rubber is dotted with metal studs designed to bite through the ice into the harder-packed surface below, producing fantastic grip on the most treacherous of conditions.
This year the event is based in Karlstad, and opens with a spectator-friendly speed test on Thursday night around the city’s 1.9 kilometre horse trotting track. Conditions in Sweden traditionally have made for one of the most extreme events of the season, but this year teams and organisers alike are watching the weather with trepidation. While snow is predicted over the weekend, there is currently a lack of snow on the stages. With average temperatures just above freezing, it is somewhat uncharacteristic of a rally that can see conditions plummet to minus 20 degrees Celsius.
In addition to the roads being incredibly treacherous, they are also very fast and flowing. In fact, the wintry routes are amongst the fastest of the entire season. Demanding maximum confidence from crews in their vehicles, the event is a stern test of man and machine and huge gains can be made by those fully commitment and driving on the edge.
The route this year comprises five new stages, one of which has been resurrected from 2000. Drivers who learn these new routes fastest and perfect their tricky pace notes to avoid mistakes will gain a significant advantage. With three remote services in Sunne and Hagfors, crews will tackle 20 stages and just over 340 competitive kilometres before reaching the finish.
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