The season-opening Monte Carlo Rally gave us a first taste of this year’s World Rally Championship pecking order, but teams and drivers will face an entirely new challenge this weekend with the return of Rally Sweden.
After a two-year hiatus, the snowy conditions of Sweden are back, and it’s the first time the new cars will be driven in anger on a loose surface.
Could the snow shake up the order? Has Hyundai made development inroads after a difficult start to the WRC’s new era?
We’ll need to wait and see how the results look at the end of Sweden to really know, but for now here’s the recent form of each Rally1 driver as they head into the season’s second round.
#2 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: DNF-5th-7th
Last Sweden result: 17th (2020)
Best Sweden WRC result: 17th (2020)
It’s fair to say Oliver Solberg didn’t have the greatest start to his season last time out in Monte Carlo, having retired from the rally after fuel fumes got into the cockpit of his car by SS14.
However, that wasn’t the only problem for the Hyundai driver. He’d already been struggling for pace and was just inside the top 50 when the decision was made to retire him from the rally.
But now Solberg is facing his more favored snowy surface, there can be no excuses. He needs a good result to get his championship back on track.
His pace on last year’s Arctic Rally Finland is evidence that Solberg is capable of running at the front in the snow. And if he can avoid any further reliability issues while also having a clean event, it would be no surprise to see him challenging towards the sharp end in Sweden.
#4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 4th-4th-DNF
Last Sweden result: 5th (2020)
Best Sweden WRC result: 2nd (2019)
There’s no doubt that Rally Sweden will be a learning exercise for Esapekka Lappi as he drives Rally1 machinery competitively for the first time.
But while he might be disadvantaged from a technical perspective, that doesn’t necessarily rule him out of the running.
Lappi has proven on multiple occasions that he is fast on the snow. He’s finished in the top five of that last three Rally Sweden events, ending up second in 2019 when driving for Citroën.
#8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: DNF-DNF-2nd
Last Sweden result: 2nd (2020)
Best Sweden WRC result: 1st (2019)
Ott Tänak’s 2022 season couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. The Hyundai i20 N Rally1 car looked off the pace and to compound matters further, Tänak crashed on Sisteron – forcing him to retire from the event.
But while that may sound all doom and gloom, one thing going Tänak’s way is his love of the Swedish snow.
He’s finished on the podium at three of the last four events in Sweden, won Sweden’s replacement Arctic Rally Finland last year, and has only finished outside the top five on one occasion in seven.
Hyundai might still have work to do, but Sweden could be the place for Tänak to rediscover his mojo.
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 6th-4th-1st
Last Sweden result: 6th (2020)
Best Sweden WRC result: 1st (2018)
Like Tänak, Thierry Neuville also struggled to find the same level of pace as that of M-Sport and Toyota on Monte Carlo, but unlike his team-mate he was still able to ground out a sixth place finish.
It might not have been the ideal start to 2022, but if Hyundai can discover some additional pace, Neuville’s current form suggests he should be there or thereabouts.
Neuville’s performances on Rally Sweden have been slightly inconsistent over the years, but he won the event in 2018 and was last on the podium in 2019 when he finished third, behind Tänak and Lappi.
#16 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: DNF-55th-16th
Last Sweden result: 18th (2020)
Best Sweden WRC result: 18th (2020)
Adrien Fourmaux’s current form is at an all-time low and he needs to work hard quickly to get himself out of the hole he’s lying in right now.
Fourmaux hasn’t been able to get the results together since last year’s Rally Finland, but he now needs a swift turnaround.
Unfortunately for the M-Sport driver, Sweden hasn’t been a rally he’s starred on in the past. He was 18th overall in 2020 when driving a WRC2 Fiesta, but although he was fourth in the WRC2 classification, he was over three minutes behind winner Mads Østberg at the end of the rally.
There’s no denying Fourmaux has ability, but if he’s to remove any unwanted attention, he needs to make sure his weekend goes without a hitch.
#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 8th-7th-40th
Last Sweden result: 9th (2020)
Best Sweden WRC result: 9th (2020)
Takamoto Katusuta’s season got off to a reasonable start last time out on Monte despite an off into a ditch, and he will be looking to repeat that performance on Sweden.
The Toyota driver has previous experience of tackling the snowy stages of Sweden in WRC machinery, having finished a credible ninth in 2020, and a similar showing this weekend would do his reputation no harm.
Katsuta had some massive highs last year, but also some very low lows, and another solid performance on Sweden will help him build up the consistency he needs convince his bosses he’s worthy of retaining for the long term
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 21st-2nd-2nd
Last Sweden result: 1st (2020)
Best Sweden WRC result: 1st (2020)
Elfyn Evans needs to put Monte behind him and start again. He was running third on the event before sliding off the road on SS11, putting him out of contention for the win.
But he now has a great chance of claiming his first rally win of the season, getting his title challenge back on track.
Evans won the last Rally Sweden in 2020, beating Tänak by 12.7s, so he knows he has the pace to emerge victorious this year.
And with both Sébastien Ogier and Sébastien Loeb both absent from Sweden, Evans’ task is no doubt easier than it could have otherwise been. Game on.
#42 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 3rd-3rd-2nd
Last Sweden result: 7th (2020)
Best Sweden WRC result: 2nd (2018)
If you want consistency then you can’t look beyond Craig Breen. Despite the fact he hasn’t been competing regularly, he’s finished on the podium in each of his last four WRC outings.
He looked right at home with M-Sport on Monte and with Loeb now absent, Breen will be assuming the leadership role.
Breen’s best result on Sweden was second in 2018, but clearly comfortable with the new Rally1 machinery, this could be his best chance yet to claim his first WRC rally win – even if he has to contend with running second on the road on Friday.
#44 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (Ford Puma Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 5th-8th-6th
Last Sweden result: 19th (2019)
Best Sweden WRC result: 16th (2017)
Like Breen, consistency is also the name of the game for Gus Greensmith right now.
In the last five rallies, Greensmith has finished between fifth and eighth and he finally claimed a first ever stage win on Monte.
Greensmith lacks experience of Sweden compared to a number of his rivals, but his current consistency levels and that stage win should definitely go some way to helping him finish well inside the top 10 this time round.
#69 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)
Last 3 WRC results: 4th-9th-5th
Last Sweden result: 3rd (2020)
Best Sweden WRC result: 3rd (2020)
On his first outing at Rally Sweden in works WRC machinery Kalle Rovanperä finished third. The next time he came across snowy conditions on last year’s Arctic Rally Finland, he finished second.
It’s fair to say then that snow is definitely a favored surface of Rovanperä’s.
Add to that a fourth place finish last time out on Monte Carlo, behind Breen and two drivers that will be absent for this round, and it immediately becomes clear that Rovanperä is going into Sweden as one of the favorites for the rally win.
But he will have the handicap of running first on the road on Friday, so how big a disadvantage this proves to be could define Rovanperä’s rally.