Kalle Rovanperä knew it as soon as he’d finished the Monte Carlo Rally. He’d finished fourth but blitzed the powerstage, so banked the points needed to lead the full-time drivers in the World Rally Championship standings.
This presented a problem: having to start first on the road in Sweden.
Everyone knows starting first on the road in Sweden is a handicap. But how much of a setback it is can depend wildly on the road conditions.
You’d think that by the Wednesday of the rally, with the recce done and dusted, Rovanperä would have an idea of what to expect; some inkling of how much time it’ll lose him and where he might be after the first day.
Not so this time. It’s still a mystery. Rovanperä seems to have as much idea as we do. Because the answer to that all-important question – how much of a difference will running first on the road make? – depends entirely on the weather.
“It’s quite difficult to predict it,” said Rovanperä. “It depends quite a lot on what happens after the rain, whether it goes minus [temperatures] or not, and how much.
“I think in some situations it could be good, if it’s making more frozen ground. But if it’s just making it softer, that’s not good for us.”
Cold. He needs a cold snap. But the forecast suggests he’s not going to get it – temperatures on Thursday and Friday are set to be above freezing point.
Worse still, the stages as they are already don’t look in the best shape for someone starting at the front that’s hoping for damage limitation. His recce report makes for chilly reading: loose snow, soft lines and ruts.
“I would say in these conditions that we have now for sure it’s not good to start first car and we are gonna need to open the road quite a lot in places and struggle. But I don’t have the highest expectations on Friday.”
It’s not a completely lost cause. There is a scenario where damage limitation becomes easier. But whether that happens or not isn’t really up to him.
“Overall we need to wait for the weather. If something really happens we cannot really predict it. We just need to see what happens and then see if it is really better or worse for us.”
Who knows, maybe the currently mild forecast turns out to be wrong. Weather forecasting is a guessing game, after all. A very advanced, scientific guessing game, but still guessing nonetheless.
Speaking of guessing games: Craig Breen. As of round one of the 2022 season, Breen is Rovanperä’s closest rival in the points classification. And he’s there because he backed off on the Monte powerstage, as Rovanperä pushed on for maximum points.
He’d made a bet that conceding points there would be repaid in Sweden. With the recce done, Breen has seen what both he and his Toyota rival are up against – does he still back his original play back in January?
“Yeah, definitely,” he responded to DirtFish’s question.
“Friday has the most snowy stages and I think they’re the stages that will clean the most. And Friday is the longest day. So every car that we have in front of us is going to be better.”
Esapekka Lappi however sees it differently, believing the anticipated weather forecast could actually make it “quite nice” to be first on the road.
“Probably it’s not so bad to be the first car,” he told DirtFish.
“If there’s fresh snow and it turns to wet snow and then it’s freezing, so then probably it’s going to be actually quite nice to be first on the road. Let’s see how the conditions develop.”