Rally Sweden is back this coming weekend (February 24-27) for the second round of the 2022 World Rally Championship (WRC) season, following its absence from the calendar last year as a result of the COVID pandemic.
On this occasion, however, race organisers have moved the event 600 km up north after the lack of snow threatened the 2019 and 2020 editions. Specifically, the WRC entourage has set course for the Vásterbotten region, with the service park located in Umeå, where they are guaranteed the presence of the ‘white blanket’.
This, however, has not been the only issue that the Swedish round has had to deal with. In fact, in recent days, two of the sections have had to be cancelled. The reason is the unexpected movements of local reindeer herds in the area as a result of the large amounts of snow and unexpected temperatures.
To avoid any harm to the animals as well as to participants, the organisation has decided to cancel the double pass through Örträsk (Saturday -40.98kms). With these changes, the final itinerary will comprise 17 special stages and 264.81 kilometres.
The new Pirelli tires, perfect for this event’s characteristics, will make their debut on the imposing Swedish battlefield. The so-called Sottozero Ice J1B, are equipped with 384 studs each, which offer maximum grip, traction and performance and suit the increased power and demands of hybrid vehicles.
Prominent absence of both the “Sébastiens”
In purely competitive terms, the 69th edition of the classic Scandinavian rally will be marked by the absence of the two great WRC leaders of the last two decades. Sébastien Ogier and Sébastien Loeb, who came head-to-head in an epic duel at Rally Montecarlo (won by the latter), will be watching the 2022 Rally Sweden from home.
The reason for this is that the two most successful drivers in the history of the WRC are only doing a part-time program in the current season, and this does not include the Scandinavian round for either of them.
M-Sport defends its sudden leadership
Besides these two absences, the Scandinavian battle comes full of promise. M-Sport is coming to this round with every intention to prove that Loeb’s success in Monaco was no fluke. Its line-up for the weekend consists of Craig Breen, Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith, the latter replacing the driver from Alzenau.
Counting on the speed of the Puma Rally 1, the team from Cumbria vows to defend its 3-point leadership of the Constructors’ World Championship tooth and nail from Toyota. It won’t be easy. The Japanese squad is hot on their heels.
Toyota hopes to get first triumph of new era
Jari-Matti Latvala’s team is committed to taking its first victory of the hybrid era. Proof of their determination is the intense testing program they carried out in Finland in the run-up to the Rally Sweden 2022, to experience weather conditions similar to those routinely found in Umeå.
Elfyn Evans, the latter winner of the Nordic event, Kalle Rovanperä, and Esapekka Lappi, who returns to action after a sabbatical year, will be replacing Ogier.
Joining them will be Takamoto Katsuta at the wheel of a ‘private’, but factory-backed, GR Yaris Rally1. Driven by their triumphs in the last two editions of the Rally, the team from Jyväskylä is after a third consecutive victory.
Hyundai aims to get back on its feet
Concerned after Montecarlo fiasco, Hyundai, the weakest team at the start of the competition, will take this opportunity to continue developing its i20N Rally1 and bring its performance closer to that of its rivals. With no other choice but to improve, Hyundai will have two recent winners of the Scandinavian race in its ranks: Thierry Neuville (2018) and Ott Tänak (2019).
Completing the team’s line-up will be young local hero and snow specialist Oliver Solberg. The Alzenau-based squad wants to fight for a podium spot. It will be possible?
Images of Rally Sweden: Toyota Gazoo Racing.