Rally Sweden had us all on the edge of our seats as the battle for victory went down to the wire on 2023’s second World Rally Championship event.
But while Ott Tänak and Craig Breen starred out front, Sweden was a less prosperous event for others.
Colin Clark has prepared his scorecard as ever, and ranks last week’s performances of all the Rally1 drivers here:
Kalle Rovanperä 7/10
Rally Sweden result: 4th
Starting first on the road on Friday proved to be a challenge too far for the boy wonder. But having said that, no-one was writing him off on Friday evening when he was still within half a minute of the lead.
Saturday and Sunday, however, were really quite un-Rovanperä like.
His times were there or thereabouts on the first pass, but then he seemed to lose the feeling, and dare I say confidence in the car, on the second pass. He wasn’t helped by a strategic mistake with tire rotation on Saturday afternoon but this was a performance that was far from Rovanperä’s finest.
If he’s looking to take a positive away from Sweden I guess it’s probably that he won’t be opening the road in Mexico – and that will probably make him just about favorite for the win there.
Elfyn Evans 5/10
Rally Sweden result: 5th
I think everyone was really hoping to see Elfyn find that Swedish form that took him to a sensational win in 2020 – but sadly, the Elfyn we saw in 2023 was a shadow of the driver we were enthralled by back then.
Japan and Monte gave us real hope that Evans was on his way to overcoming the obvious issues he’s encountered in mastering the intricacies of the Rally1 Yaris. Sweden was a step backwards however and that, at times, was hard to watch.
Everyone knows what Elfyn is capable of and to hear him time after time talk about not being able to find any confidence in the car was difficult.
Evans has said it himself: he doesn’t go rallying to finish fourth or fifth. On the positive side though, he is keeping the car on the road and scoring good points. It is very possible that things could turn around very quickly and if that happens, Evans is still very much keeping himself in contention for this year’s championship.
Takamoto Katsuta 3/10
Rally Sweden result: DNF
A stage win followed by a silly mistake that ultimately put him out of the rally – this is absolutely not the performance that Katsuta, or more pertinently, his team, wanted to see on his full manufacturer debut in Sweden.
Discipline was the name of the game here and sadly Taka-san wasn’t capable of showing us too much of that on what is his favorite surface.
And maybe that was the issue. Takamoto is going to have to adopt and master twin personalities this season. His factory outings will require measured, risk free and steady drives to provide the safety net that the team demands. His opportunity to prove his pace and push his own personal limits will come on his outings outside of the factory team.
Driving with a different approach from one rally to the next won’t be easy but it’s a skill and a discipline that Taka-san will have to master quickly – or questions might well be asked about the wisdom of his promotion to the factory team.
Lorenzo Bertelli 5/10
Rally Sweden result: 14th
My good friend and colleague George Donaldson reckons that if a driver sticks to his plans and achieves his objectives then he’s fully deserving of a 10 out of 10. Obviously I disagree with GD, but if I applied his logic to Lorenzo then he’d have the perfect 10.
But because I have a huge amount of respect for my Scottish friend, I’ve met him halfway on this one.
Bertelli came here to enjoy himself and get the most out his debut in a Yaris and he absolutely achieved that with the biggest smile on his face all week. He didn’t make any big mistakes and got through every stage at a decent rate.
Privateers competing in top-line machinery has always been an integral part of rallying’s DNA but sadly these days we just don’t see enough of the likes of Lorenzo. And so I celebrate his appearance here with a well deserved five out of 10.
Thierry Neuville 8/10
Rally Sweden result: 3rd
This was a really impressive performance from Neuville. His preparations for the event were seriously disrupted by illness and it was clearly obvious that he was far from 100% fit in Sweden.
Yet again we saw the tenacious, battling qualities that have delivered points from seemingly hopeless positions in the past very much on display.
Neuville struggled at times with the setup on his Hyundai but he kept pushing and few gave him much of a chance of keeping Rovanperä behind him on Sunday. His pace at times was nothing short of sensational and his run through SS17, where he was six seconds quicker than Rovanperä, was Neuville at his ferocious best.
The car is not far off what Neuville needs and it’s come a long, long way in the past 12 months. When Thierry and the Hyundai Rally1 are truly working harmoniously together, he too will be, once again, a true championship challenger.
Craig Breen 10/10
Rally Sweden result: 2nd
There are many things that make this the best performance of Breen’s career in my opinion. You absolutely have to put this drive into context to really appreciate its brilliance – the last time we saw Craig in the championship he was a broken man. 2022 was an almost unmitigated disaster for the always affable Irishman and many drivers would have been terminally broken by such a devastating experience.
But not Breen.
He returned to a team he knew he could work with in a capacity that had delivered results for him in the past. However, after the desperate lows of last season, that return offered absolutely no guarantees of success. It was a huge gamble form Breen to give up a full-time drive and it was an even bigger gamble from Hyundai to take on a driver who many saw as damaged goods.
All of that makes Breen’s drive in Sweden truly sensational.
The smile on Friday, where undoubtedly road position helped his confidence and times, was there almost constantly. The big question was could he maintain that speed and competitiveness through the rest of the rally where conditions would be far more even for everyone?
Breen answered that question with an emphatic yes.
Saturday was his most impressive drive at the highest level and for quite some time it looked as if a first championship win was on the cards. OK that wasn’t to be, not this time anyway, but his second place represents a turn around in form and fortune the likes of which the championship has rarely ever seen.
Breen’s is a continuing story that you really can’t script – and it’s one that takes you on the most stomach churning rollercoaster of deep, despairing lows to soaringly joyous highs.
Esapekka Lappi 8/10
Rally Sweden result: 7th
A really strong drive from Esapekka that was undone by an unfortunate tire episode that resulted in him getting stuck in a snowbank on SS13.
Lappi has adapted well to the demands and obvious nuances of mastering the Hyundai and he had a confidence about him last week that we haven’t seen enough of in the past.
His pace here suggests that podiums will come as the season progresses and that his second championship victory could well be on the cards – particularly when we get to the fast gravel rallies of Estonia and Finland.
Ott Tänak 10/10
Rally Sweden result: 1st
Rally Finland last year was, in my mind, Tänak’s best every performance in a rally car – but my goodness, this one comes a very close second.
However this was a completely different drive to Finland where Tänak was in full warrior mode – putting everything on the line, stage after stage. Sweden was a controlled and measured drive of the absolute highest caliber.
Listening to Tänak pre-event and watching his body language when engaged with the team, you’d have thought they were deep in crisis mode and damage limitation was the name of the game.
It seems, however, that that’s Tänak’s way – he is so focused on what’s needed and pushes everyone around him so hard that once the rally starts, there’s little room for pleasantries or platitudes.
M-Sport knew exactly what it was getting when it re-signed Tanak and he’s doing exactly what the team needed him to do – leading from the front with a steely determination and laser-like focus.
We are seeing Tänak at his very best once again – he’s an intimidating force to be reckoned with and when he gets the car that he so clearly wants, he could be all but untouchable once again.
Pierre-Louis Loubet 5/10
Rally Sweden result: 6th
A really solid drive here from young Loubet off the back of what was a disappointing Monte Carlo for him.
Loubet and Gilsoul had a very well-defined plan before the off and they religiously stuck to it. No mistakes was the aim, and that’s what delivered the result.
As a young and ambitious driver it’s easy to get frustrated and push beyond what you’re capable of. Mileage is the single most important thing for Loubet right now and controlling his youthful over-exuberance hasn’t always been easy – resulting in him doing more stage-side spectating form his stricken car than actual competing in the past.
This was a lesson in how patience and perseverance delivers results. Glimpses of real pace (he was second quickest in stage five) was an added bonus.