‘I’m too hot’ is a thought that’s never crossed anybody’s mind when standing at Sweden’s famous Colin’s Crest.
Yet there I was on Saturday, cooking in 24C (75F – for a Scotsman with a balding scalp that’s far too toasty!) with that precise thought running through my mind.
Welcome to international rallying in Sweden, summer edition.
As you read this, the 2023 Royal Rally of Scandinavia is over – logged as the opening chapter in what promises to be a very long and storied book.
But as I type, perched on a bank covered in wood chips overlooking one of the most famous stretches of rally road anywhere on the planet, Royal Rally of Scandinavia is very much still alive.
The heart still beating – pulse still racing.
I could’ve written this feature back at my hotel in Karlstad, or even on the flight home back to the UK. But with some time to kill in between the first and second passes, what better moment is there to bring you the color and atmosphere of this mecca for rally fans than when I’m slap-bang in the middle of it?
And mercifully – because I know you were worried about me for a second – my spot has some shade. So I feel relaxed, and can actually see my laptop screen!
I must open up and admit that things haven’t always been this relaxed, though. To say I was a little stressed and underprepared the night before, plotting my way to this most epic of spectator points would be an understatement.
I don’t have the same rally planning skills as my esteemed colleagues do, you see. But what’s easy isn’t worth having, right?
Needless to say my mild panic and overthinking was all for nothing. On the road out of Karlstad, my Toyota C-HR and I practically had the roads to ourselves as we made the 7am drive north – and the Swedes were way ahead of me with their organization, I needn’t have bothered looking for it.
The arrowed sign I had been longing to see, ‘SS12/16 Colin’s Spectator Area’, popped into view and I was sorted. Ample space to park the car, I swung my bag over my shoulder and marched on my way to heaven.
I’m a complete rally nerd – I have no shame in saying that – so immediately I was scoping out the stage stop-line and the surface of the road as I made my way towards Colin’s Crest in reverse direction.
These are roads anybody would love to drive on. Smooth, flowing, fast – they have it all. But soon I was heading off somewhere no rally driver wants to venture – the scenery.
“Colin’s?” a marshal, standing in the middle of the stage asked me.
I nodded in excitement.
“This way,” he replied, ushering me down a path through the trees which would soon reveal nature’s stadium.
Some of the context of this trip had been lost on me. By all accounts, Royal Rally of Scandinavia is an all-new rally, but the region is steeped in rallying folklore as Värmland played host to Rally Sweden in the World Rally Championship for decades.
I’d never been to Rally Sweden before. I’d never been to Sweden before. Heck, I hadn’t even been to Scandinavia before last week. So the whole ‘what do these roads look like without snow?’ narrative was one I couldn’t fully grasp.
But Colin’s Crest hit the point home. This was a jump I’d spent years watching back home, and gawping at photographs from afterwards. But to see it baked in sunshine without a snow bank in sight was quite surreal.
Arriving two hours before the stage was live, I took my chance to check out the crest before choosing my vantage point. Obligatory photograph taken, and deeper appreciation unlocked realizing just how far the 40 and 50m boards were from where I’d just posed, I darted back into the woods and found the perfect place.
Then it was just a waiting game. But there was plenty to keep me occupied, as the organizer had pulled out the stops to create a festival atmosphere with a big projector streaming WRC+ and a live stage across the road with an announcer, and later a live band.
And I got chatting to some locals who had been coming to Colin’s Crest for years.
“We have come here many times with waist-deep snow, which was perfect!” they said.
“But this is also perfect”.
Winter jackets and wooly hats may have been ditched for T-shirts and baseball caps, but the atmosphere and tension was the same. This was the same old Colin’s Crest, just the summer remix of it.
But these contemplations were soon silenced by the arrival of Jon Armstrong, as the Northern Irishman launched his Ford Fiesta Rally2 into orbit.
I’d never seen a rally car jump anywhere near as far as Armstrong’s 35m+ effort before, so I was quite taken aback. It happened so quickly I almost missed it! But more was to come, plenty more.
Watching a rally somewhere as spectacular as this always presents a unique dilemma: reach for the smartphone and grab a quick video, or just take it in and enjoy it solely through your own internal lens.
I tried to opt for the latter as much as I could, but learning that Mads Østberg was coming my hand instinctively dove into my pocket.
Ever the showman, Østberg had told me even before the rally that Colin’s Crest was always about performing for him.
But after the previous stage, he sounded a bit defeatist about any record-breaking leap.
“For the first pass, the winter with the studs will be faster,” he said, “but let’s see, it will be a practice jump.”
If this was a practice jump, I’m not sure what Østberg had planned for the powerstage.
His Citroën C3 Rally2 through flew through the summer air to claim a new Colin’s Crest record jump of 46m – eclipsing Eyvind Brynildsen’s long-standing benchmark by just a single meter.
Sub-editor, please reply in italics here if he leapt even further on the second pass, because I bet he did.
The excitement wasn’t over though, not by a long stretch.
Filip Mareš was one of the liveliest, wiping out the 30m board as his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo returned to planet earth.
Ra-ta-ta-ta and gone – blink and you’d have missed Lauri Joona in the younger RS Rally Fabia.
A crescendo however was building. The battle between Hayden Paddon and Oliver Solberg was refusing to settle down, and Paddon was up next.
An impressive launch signaled his intent – the European Rally Championship leader wasn’t messing about.
From our spectacular viewing point, Oliver Solberg’s flight wasn’t any more or less breathtaking than Paddon’s.
But the Swede’s performance on the stage was mighty, swiping three seconds from his rival in what proved to be one of the more decisive stages of the entire 16-test contest.
The roar of the crowd as we learned Solberg had cleaned Paddon proved how popular he is in these parts.
Sadly, I can’t stick around for the second pass. Do that and I’ll jeopardize the all-important final media zone later back in Karlstad.
But for now, that can wait. There’s an ice-cold drink from one of the vendors with my name on it, and some live Swedish metal music to enjoy.
Winter, summer, in the middle of a zombie apocalypse – it doesn’t matter. Colin’s Crest will always be one of the best places anywhere to watch a rally car. It’s truly fantastic that after three long years without it, the mecca is back again.
As ever my words don’t even come close to doing it justice, so you know what you need to do. Flights will be cheap if you book them this far in advance…