All four of this year’s likely World Rally Championship title contenders have a single Rally Sweden victory to their name, which suggests that this weekend’s event could be wide open.
In total, there are scheduled to be 52 starters for the WRC’s solitary winter rally, with only nine in Rally1 machinery.
Grip levels in Sweden vary across a wider range than perhaps any other WRC event, owing to the fantastic traction offered by studded tires and consequent drop-off when those studs are shed later in each loop of stages.
As a result, setup is always a compromise, particularly with the likelihood of gravel surfacing through the snow and ice, as could be the case this weekend.
It adds up to making the competitive order tricky to predict but, based on current form and past Swedish performance, here is our guide:
#69 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 2nd, 12th, 3rd
Best Sweden result: 1st (2022)
The 2022 world champion’s run of five wins in six rallies last year began in Sweden after he moved into the lead on Saturday morning.
He will surely be favorite to repeat that success, but it may not all be plain sailing. Rovanperä will open the road, courtesy of a strong run to second behind part-timer Sébastien Ogier on the Monte Carlo Rally.
The impact of that is likely to depend on how much snowfall there is this week. With plenty of fresh snow on the road surface, Rovanperä will become a plow for the cars behind.
But, if milder weather leads to gravel coming through the surface, opening the road could provide Rovanperä with the best of the conditions
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 3rd, 1st, 2nd
Best Sweden result: 1st (2018)
It’s five years since Thierry Neuville took his sole victory on Rally Sweden, but he led last year’s event at the end of the opening leg.
Struggling for grip on the Saturday, Neuville slipped to fourth behind the three Toyotas before overhauling Esapekka Lappi and benefiting from Elfyn Evans’ demise to finish second.
It was the second time he had been runner-up on the Swedish snow and boosted the beleaguered Hyundai team after its troubled showing in Monte Carlo.
Neuville also scored a podium in 2021’s Sweden replacement, Arctic Rally Finland, so has strong form on winter rallies.
Allied to Hyundai’s rapid development over the past 12 months, Neuville must be a genuine victory contender.
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 4th, 5th, 6th
Best Sweden result: 1st (2020)
No podium finish since Ypres last August would suggest that Elfyn Evans has been below par in recent months.
But results alone never tell the full story. Evans’ pace has been strong, but punctures derailed his challenge for victory in Japan and on last month’s Monte.
His Swedish form is good. Winner in 2020, Evans led on the opening day last year and was running second before a bizarre incident at the end of Saturday’s Umeå spectator stage.
Smarting from the resulting penalty, Evans went off and was forced to retire with a hybrid issue.
Optimism that he’s now on top of the setup difficulties he has experienced with the Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 will be put to the test this weekend.
#8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 5th, 2nd, 4th
Best Sweden result: 1st (2019)
There’s no doubting the 2019 world champion’s abilities on snow rallies. Victory in Sweden opened his account in his title-winning season and having switched from Toyota to Hyundai, he was second a year later in a shortened event.
Tänak dominated Arctic Rally Finland in 2021 and had climbed to second in Sweden last year before being sidelined by hybrid issues.
Fifth on the Monte Carlo Rally was a solid start to his latest spell at M-Sport Ford and provides a platform to build on.
Team boss Malcolm Wilson sees no reason why Tänak can’t challenge for victory in Sweden. His charge is more cautiously optimistic, but vital seat-time – and a consummate victory – on the white stuff at Otepää talveralli will be a boost.
#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 6th, 3rd, 7th
Best Sweden result: 4th (2022)
A great opportunity to prove his worth to the team or added pressure to perform?
This will be Takamoto Katsuta’s first outing as a fully-fledged point-scoring driver for the main Toyota squad.
Both he and the team have played down expectations but strong form in Sweden, combined with the consistency he has become known for, could be the recipe for a good result.
Katsuta was fourth in Sweden last year, and it was here where he made a name for himself with a stunning WRC2 win in 2018. But will retiring from his warm-up event last weekend after a trip into a snowbank have dented his confidence?
#4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 8th, 22nd, 3rd
Best Sweden result: 2nd (2019)
Esapekka Lappi was disappointed with the start he made to his Hyundai career on the Monte, where he struggled for confidence in the car and finished in eighth, nearly four minutes off the pace.
More time in the seat of his new mount will be crucial. But whether his performance last weekend on a national rally in Finland – which he was controlling before losing 11 minutes in a snowbank – will boost his confidence or cause his head to drop further remains to be seen.
Sweden is a rally Lappi knows well and has a good record on – he was third last year and second in his Citroën days in 2019 – so he’ll expect to be closer to the pace this weekend.
#7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: DNF, 10th, 4th
Best Sweden result: DNF (2017)
It was also a disappointing start to Pierre-Louis Loubet’s first full-season campaign at the Monte Carlo Rally and he will be keen to ensure that that was only a blip.
Just like the Monte, Sweden is an event that Loubet has only contested once – way back in 2017 at the wheel of a Citroën DS3 R5 when his engine failed on the first day.
As such, this weekend will be purely about gaining experience. A finish, completing the full stage mileage, must be the only target.
That would get his season back on track and allow him to build on his very promising 2022 campaign when he gets to events he is more familiar with.
#42 Craig Breen/James Fulton (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 24th, 9th, 19th
Best Sweden result: 2nd (2018)
Returning to a part-time role at Hyundai, Craig Breen’s season starts here.
A positive result would put last year’s miserable run at M-Sport firmly behind him and Sweden could be just the place for a confidence-inspiring outing.
Breen endured a troubled event last year but has gone well previously, claiming second for Citroën in 2018. And if the weather gods smile on him, starting eighth on the road could be a big advantage.
Such optimism could be tempered by needing to gel with both a new co-driver, in only their second event together, and a new car.
But while only Neuville could get the Hyundai to work on the Monte, Breen knows from experience that he can perform in a car designed around the team’s lead driver.
#37 Lorenzo Bertelli/Simone Scattolin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 7th, 11th, 51st
Best Sweden result: 18th (2014)
Not since Lappi’s Finnish outing in 2021 have we seen a top-class Toyota in the hands of a private entrant. That changes this weekend with Lorenzo Bertelli’s outing in the fourth Yaris that’s available at rounds Ogier chooses to skip.
While Lappi took his privateer Yaris to fourth overall, gentleman driver Bertelli will have less lofty ambitions. The former long-time M-Sport customer has plenty of Swedish experience, although has not contested the event since 2019.
He will be aiming to cling on to the coattails of the other Rally1 entries and bring the car home in the top 10.