Ekström expects sprint rallies to be post-pandemic future

The WRX champ was impressed by Rally Sweden Lockdown

Swedish Rally Lockdown 2020-06-07 Foto Tony WelamMattias Ekstrom

Mattias Ekström expects sprint events like last weekend’s Rally Sweden Lockdown to become a more important part of the global rallying scene, as teams and drivers feel the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rally Sweden Lockdown used the 2.5 kilometre Torsby Sprint test seen on Sweden’s round of the World Rally Championship as its only competitive mileage, run multiple times by competitors in a head-to-head knockout format.

In addition to DTM and World Rallycross Champion Ekström there were other household names from Sweden’s rallying scene competing on the event, including Petter’s son Oliver Solberg, WRC2 Champion Pontus Tidemand and Junior WRC Champions P-G Andersson and Emil Bergkvist.

Spectators were banned from attending but the event was broadcast live on Swedish national broadcaster SVT’s main channel SVT1, and a highlights package was broadcast on the WRC+ service.

Ekström believes this format should be more widely adopted to help rallying get up and running in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think this is actually something motorsport should think of in general,” said Ekström.

“Now with coronavirus we are not allowed to do [normal rallies].

Swedish Rally Lockdown 2020-06-07 Foto Tony WelamMattias Ekstrom

“From cost efficiency for the teams and for the drivers, everybody wishes to drive a lot more but [in terms of] price versus performance, when you have a good media partner and you have a good stage like this, then I think you can make a really efficient event.

“If you had spectators here it would be even greater, but to do short sprint rallies with good drivers and good cars, with spectators for sure, would be even better. I think this will be a part of the future as well.”

Ekström’s own preparation firm EKS recently ended its new Swedish Rally Championship programme, citing the increased financial pressures brought about by the ongoing pandemic.

As part of his team’s entry to Rally Sweden Lockdown, Ekström shared a single Škoda Fabia R5 with team-mate Bergkvist, further reducing costs.

Ekström believes that tighter finances for entrants means the cost-effective nature of sprint rallies will make them more attractive for entrants.

“I was a fan of it even before [this one], because to run those cars are very expensive.

“When you stand in a stage like this you have a lot of cameras it’s so easy to follow, and then you drive it more times, so I think that’s something you should consider for the future to be more cost effective.

“I think about how coronavirus is today, you have a lockdown – like the rally name is – but for the future it will also be a financial challenge, because coronavirus will leave a footprint.

“When the health thing is under control it will also be financial [consequences] as a result of the coronavirus, so you will run a bit short of budget for many [people]. Then you need to look at cheaper events that still has a high value for the fans.”

Rally Sweden Lockdown winner Solberg was also receptive to the idea of doing more rally sprint events in the future, though still hopes full-length events will make a speedy return.

“It’s very nice to drive a full rally and on proper stages but it’s not a bad idea to do this sometimes, because it pushes you to the edge and you have to be so perfect because it’s only tenths separating everyone,” he said.

“For sure to do more of these events is not bad, because it really gives you a kick.

“It’s a nice format to use and it’s much cheaper to start with in your rally career or maybe as a budget point of view, to do this type of rallying. OK, I still want the normal rally because it’s still very fun, but it’s proper adrenaline to do this short, very intense race.”

Swedish Rally Lockdown 2020-06-07 Foto Tony WelamOliver Solberg