Craig Breen expects this year’s edition of Rally Sweden to be the fastest rally ever in the history of the World Rally Championship.
Kris Meeke broke new ground in the WRC when he set an average speed of 78.67mph on Rally Finland 2016, driving a Citroën DS3 WRC.
That prompted changes to the Rally Finland itinerary in subsequent years amid concerns that the recently retired generation of WRC cars introduced in 2017 would be too fast.
But with Sweden’s home base moving northward from Torsby in Värmland to Umeå in Västerbotten in search of fresh snow, its itinerary now features more flat-out straights than ever before.
Those long, flat straights have given Breen reason to believe Meeke’s record will finally be broken this weekend.
“It’s definitely the fastest rally I’ve ever been on. Incredibly fast,” said the M-Sport driver.
“Where it’s fast it’s very, very straight. Not so many crests and jumps; I won’t say featureless but it’s very straight and very fast, and where it’s a bit more technical and narrow, it’s very narrow and very technical, quite choppy and bumpy.
“Until we get into it nobody knows for sure. Obviously, we’re doing the recce at the maximum 70kph [44mph], in places where we’ll be passing at about 170-180kph [105-112mph]. But we won’t really know until we get our teeth into the rally itself.
“I think you’re going to see the fastest rally [ever], definitely with the highest average speed. I think Kris’s record is going to [be broken]. If it’s ever going to happen, it’s definitely going to be this one.”
The stages may well be some of the fastest seen in the WRC but they’re not to everyone’s taste. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville described them as “a little bit less interesting from what I would have expected” due to the severe straight-line sections.
“If it’s fast it’s not a problem but if it’s straight and fast there’s no interest,” he told DirtFish.
“There are still a few stages which are nice but some are just not on the WRC level to be honest.”
Those long sections of straight do promise the potential of a closely bunched-up field though, with fewer opportunities to make inroads on rivals.
“For sure there’s less places to make time if you compare it to a traditional gravel rally or even a Tarmac rally,” said Breen.
“There’s definitely less corners. Ultimately it’s around the corners and twisty bits that the difference is made, so there’s definitely going to be less opportunities to do that and it’s going to be very close, I would imagine.”