It’s new, yet it isn’t. It’s an international rally in Sweden, but not as you know it. It’s the new European Rally Championship event that everyone’s talking about: Royal Rally of Scandinavia.
How’s it new? Literally because it’s brand new – 2023 will be the inaugural running of the rally. But Sweden’s Värmland region is hardly what you’d call unaccustomed to high-profile rallying as the home of the nation’s World Rally Championship event for generations until the move north to Umeå in 2022.
So where’s the twist? The clue’s in the date: July 7-8. No snow and ice here, Royal Rally of Scandinavia will be a high-octane gravel affair. Those classic Rally Sweden stages we all know and love will be looking a bit different next year.
The contrast between familiar and fresh continues with the team behind it too. Glenn Olsson’s a key and well-known figure but in a new role. While no longer CEO of Rally Sweden, he’s still a CEO – fronting a new events arm of Swedish promotional firm NeH to organize the rally.
Naturally, he’s excited for what lies ahead.
“I think it was a record in the local TV social media channels in the number of people liking it and sharing it, it was a really big thing in Värmland when this came out,” Olsson tells DirtFish.
“So I hope we can help each other and make this work out and build a new, big annual event in Värmland.
“The organization we have, the knowledge, it’s the same type of guys who’ll do this event that have done Rally Sweden so we are moving in with the same ambitions and the same level as we have done Rally Sweden and that’s where we’re starting off.”
Olsson reveals that discussions to bring an event back to Värmland again first began “when we took the decision to move Rally Sweden to Umeå”, and that process was aided by all of the personal relations Olsson and the motor clubs had in the region.
But this is no copy and paste job.
“Of course it’s a totally new situation to do it in the summer, it’s not exactly the same stages,” Olsson explains.
“You cannot use the roads we have used for winter – sometimes they’re not a road in the summer. In winter time we can use roads that are really, really bad roads but we can fix it up with the winter and the ice, so in the summer you really need to have strong gravel roads which are used for summer rallies in the past.
“It’s not exactly the same roads you can use but of course we have the knowledge, in Värmland we are doing summer rallies as well – not in the international level these days but we do still do summer rallies so we have good roads and if you look at the rallies we have nowadays in the summer, it’s really good, fast roads, more like Rally Finland type of event.
“So when we can find the route and get all the permissions, in the end it will be a really good route.
“But we need to work on it now, find out all the alternatives and see where we will put the service park, where the stages will be and everything but we are trying to find a good set-up for it.”
And Olsson means that when he says nothing is decided. DirtFish enquired if the stages and the location of the service park are genuinely still up for discussion, or if he’s just not in a position to publicly confirm them, and Olsson is clear.
“It’s still up for discussion because we are really depending on finding the roads and getting the permissions for the roads. Then when we know where we have the roads, we can also decide more where we need to have the service park and how we can connect it together into a rally.
“And then on top of that we need to negotiate with all the communes, all the regions and try to get funding for it so it’s still really a lot of work still to make this happen.”
However he does make one promise: “I will definitely do whatever I can to bring Colin’s [Crest] back to this!”
But that does lead onto an interesting question. How will the stages in summer match up compared to when they’re covered in snow and ice? Will they be faster in July, or actually will the forgiving nature of some of the snowbanks and the impressive performance of the studded tires make them quicker in February?
“I’ve been asking this question to some of the drivers,” Olsson says, “and some of the drivers say the road might be a little bit more straightened since you don’t have the snowbanks, so you could go a little bit faster.
“But the roads we are looking for are really fast so it’s going to be a fast rally. And one of the questions I’ve asked the drivers is how will it be on Colin’s for example during the summer time?
“And drivers say it could be faster and it will probably be a longer jump, so that’s the impression I got from the drivers so far so that’s what we are building on.”
Olsson’s already mentioned it, but it’s important to stress that running a summer rally is nothing new in Sweden. Internationally, the perception of Swedish rallying is broadly snow and ice, so is it important for Royal Rally of Scandinavia to address that?
“I don’t think it’s important,” Olsson argues, “but what we have been saying for all of the years when we have been doing Rally Sweden is how nice it would be to do it in the summer, to not have to think about everything freezing down in the nights and the added cost that you have connected to the winter.”
And warmer weather should mean a more electric atmosphere too. There’s a real conscious effort to not just appeal to rally fans, but the wider population as well.
“It feels a lot easier to do it in the summer when you can also bring the summer festival,” says Olsson.
“Bringing the people out in the winter time in minus 10 degrees is not as easy as bringing them out in plus 20, so it’s a lot easier to build a festival and the party around it so that’s what we’re really looking forward to – to build a really nice summer rally festival around this.
“For example in iconic places like Colin’s Crest, it’s always been a dream to do Colin’s in the summer time with a big event.
“So we will really try to develop the arenas and everything around it and make it even more attractive to people getting to the events, not being a super rally fan you want to join this for the festival. While for the hardcore rally fan it will still be an exciting rally.”
Things are clearly still not at an advanced stage, but the battle plan is clear. Including the decision to be part of the ERC.
Next year, Sweden will become one of just three countries (alongside Portugal and Italy) to host rounds in both the WRC and the ERC. But it’s perhaps the only country that has two events that feel genuinely as exciting as one another.
There’s no plan for Royal Rally of Scandinavia to usurp its bigger brother though. It’s very deliberately being moulded to be part of the ERC – not the WRC.
“The ambition for us is to develop ourselves in the ERC,” Olsson says.
“We see a good future in the ERC, I think the championship will grow really fast with the promoter’s structure around it now and also the cost level that we have in ERC comparing to WRC is so much lower so I think the volume of drivers we’ll see in the future we’ll really see in ERC.
“And that’s what’s also attracting the spectators that we can have the best Swedish and Norwegian drivers and hopefully also a lot of Finnish drivers coming here and of course the rest of the athletes competing in Europe.
“So within three or four years I think ERC will develop really fast with the new TV package and everything around it, it will be the first step moving internationally from the national series.
“So I see a bright future for ERC and if you compare it to WRC, if you win WRC2 you don’t get all this credit as you can if you win Royal Rally Scandinavia. You will be the hero here, you will be the king and you will get all the exposure.
“I think in a couple of years the teams and the drivers will see this, that the ERC will open a fan window where you can really get good exposure and get credit for what you’re doing.”
There’s no guarantee Sweden will be the Nordic nation hosting an ERC round either. The key’s in the name: Royal Rally of Scandinavia. There’s no mention of Sweden in there, and that’s no accident.
“We want to be the event that every Scandinavian driver wants to drive every year – that’s how we want to place this,” Olsson explains.
“We also don’t want to be geographically locked. If we have problems somewhere we can move around and so that’s also one of the choices with the Scandinavia [name] in it.
“But we want to be the really big rally event in Scandinavia and do a really good job and make sure the drivers and the teams and the fans will really enjoy it.”
Wherever it goes in the future, right now Royal Rally of Scandinavia is, in this writer’s opinion, the most exciting rally on next year’s global rallying calendar – and Olsson has one final tease left for us.
“I also have a feeling that we will see a lot of the old… since the R5 or the Rally2 cars are available to get a hold of, you will see a lot of drivers coming in. You can hire or get a hold of a car and you can win this competition which is impossible in WRC1.
“But here you can actually win the competition with the R5 or Rally2 car and I feel that is really attracting some of the legends or the drivers that feel this will be a good event to climb into with one of the cars that they maybe already have or something.
“I think we will see a lot of legends also competing on this event.”