European Rally Championship leader Hayden Paddon and event winner Oliver Solberg both believe Royal Rally of Scandinavia is worthy of a place in the World Rally Championship – and is even better than Rally Finland.
Paddon and Solberg proved to be the pacesetters on last weekend’s Swedish event – running as round five of this year’s ERC – Paddon leading early doors before Solberg stretched clear to record a 22.5-second victory.
Although held in the Värmland region which hosted Sweden’s round of the world championship until as recently as last year, Royal Rally of Scandinavia was a brand-new rally with just one stage (Colin’s, featuring the iconic Colin’s Crest) in common with the old Rally Sweden.
The key difference however was the July date, which meant international rally stars experienced the region’s roads in the summertime and on gravel, instead of in winter and on snow, for the very first time.
Despite some pre-event concerns about the positioning of some anti-cut devices on the apex of corners, the rally received universal praise.
“I loved every bit of it,” Paddon told DirtFish.
“Phenomenal stages – even on the second pass, they’re not too rough. OK, the last one was a little bit rougher but not too bad. Just being able to have a rally where you can push on all stages, not having to worry about rocks and ruts, that’s what us drivers love.
“A rally like this could easily be a WRC rally. Even if you have Finland in the winter and you have this as a summer one, you could do a bit of a swap.
“I know that’s against tradition and everything and the Finns wouldn’t like that, but the roads here just stand up to the rallying so well.”
Paddon’s suggestion for the WRC to reintroduce Arctic Rally Finland and replace Finland’s summer event with Royal Rally of Scandinavia was echoed by another competitor, who proposed a rotational solution for Sweden and Finland across summer and winter.
Solberg, who lives just an hour away from Royal Rally of Scandinavia’s host city of Karlstad, said he preferred the character of stages to Rally Finland because they have a bit more to them.
“I’m not going to give it praise just because it’s my home rally, but it is actually one of the best high-speed rallies I have ever done,” Solberg told DirtFish.
“Better than Finland in my opinion and Estonia because it really has… it’s fast but it’s so technical and really the margin of error is so small.
“I have never been so focused in my whole life, or the whole year, and as we say in Sweden you need to have your tongue in the right position in the mouth basically. It’s been really, really tricky but the roads are really cool.”
Asked to describe just what the challenge of the stages was, Solberg explained: “It’s like a narrow Finland with ditches and then you have some technical parts and some really fast parts.
“It’s basically like Finland but much more technical and narrow. It has a bit more to it, basically, and it’s still very fast.
“Like yesterday [Friday], I did 136kph average on the last stage of the loop, so it is fast!”
ERC championship manager Iain Campbell was similarly impressed with last weekend’s rally.
“They have set the bar incredibly high for all ERC events in the future,” Campbell told DirtFish.
“They’ve run a very smooth event, and the stages are mega. They are seriously quick but they are beautiful stages – they don’t rut up.
“They must be about the only event where they’ve got a service park that has more space than they know what to do with, which helps for growth. But also Glenn [Olsson] and his team don’t look at it just as a rally competition.
“It’s a spectator experience, it’s a corporate opportunity, it’s there for sponsors, it’s there for families, it’s a party. If you get your ticket for the stages you can get a free bus from Karlstad city center.
“There’s bands coming on in the service park, beers as well. It’s a whole week of a festival which is fabulous. Every event does things in its own different way, but here has got a different viewpoint and we can all learn from it.”
Asked directly if he felt the rally was WRC-standard, Campbell replied: “Yeah, absolutely.”
But he was equally clear that it added plenty of value for the ERC’s competitors.
“Could you say it’s a mini WRC [event]? It’s a WRC event in everything bar Sunday,” he said.
“But it’s still delivering for our customers which is the most important thing. I’m sure you’ve spoken to many of them – I’m still to find one that’s moaning about anything, which is great.
“They’ve got that balance correct. The ambition for ERC is to lift the events in standard, and I think that we are, together with the events, achieving that. That’s not something we are doing, we’re all doing it. And this just helps a bit further.”