As I sit, in April’s second week, writing about next year’s winter round of the World Rally Championship, it’s snowing in Umeå, Sweden. And it’s -1C.
By comparison, it’s seven degrees and raining in Torsby.
After a year of investigation, Rally Sweden had to come out swinging with solid answers to big questions regarding the viability of its future on the calendar. It’s done that. FIA rally director Yves Matton rest easy – we’re not going back to Torsby. Or Karlstad.
We’re heading north.
And I’m very happy about that. But at the same time, I’m very sad about that as well.
When I started covering the WRC, the hop, skip and jump from Heathrow to Stockholm to Karlstad was always my favorite. A genuine winter wonderland.
Until the world changed and winter headed south. Or, in this case, further north.
In recent years, the annual trip to Karlstad and Torsby has been a made on a wing and a prayer. It couldn’t continue. And, sad as it makes me that I’ll probably never again enjoy an eye-wateringly expensive beer in Valfrids Krog or sleep in a cell in the world’s coolest prison-turned-hotel, things had to change.
The focus on that need to change was sharpened in February, when Arctic Rally Finland came off the bench for and – let’s be honest – comprehensively outplayed what would have been a Värmland-based Rally Sweden.
For the last 12 months, Rally Sweden CEO Glenn Olsson has considered three options: Östersund, Luleå and Umeå before committing to the latter and confirming that decision on Thursday.
Before looking to the future, it seems like a good moment to thank the Värmland for almost 50 years of WRC action.
“I agree that it’s sad,” Olsson told DirtFish.
“When we announced the news, there was a lot of sadness in Karlstad and Torsby. So many people have worked very hard to take care of this event and keep it alive, only to lose a fight against the climate. The Värmland people have been so supportive and we cannot forget this.”
But with a contract in place with WRC Promoter, it’s all eyes to the future from now on.
This is an area with a good, strong history and tradition in the sportGlenn Olsson on Rally Sweden's new base
“We really had to dig deep with the investigation,” said Olsson.
“We looked at everything from accommodation to the involvement with local business, regional [government], transport and communications and, of course, the weather and the roads.
“After looking at all of those things, the decision was taken that Umeå was the best alternative. Umeå is a nice city. It has a service park which is 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles) from the city center and there are 2000 beds in the hotels in the city. The facilities are very, very good.”
And the roads? What sort of stages can we look forward to?
“This is an area with a good, strong history and tradition in the sport,” continued Olsson. “We have a round of the [Swedish] national championship – the Vännäs Rally – which runs on these stages, so we know what we can expect.
“For the weather, we have looked back over 10 years and there are very good winters in Umeå. Even when you remember in 2020, when we were struggling n Torsby, in Umeå it was still very cold and a lot of snow.
“Still up there, they are running stages on the frozen lakes – we will go to a place with a lot of ice next winter.”
Even better, Umeå has a direct ferry connection with Finland and the port of Vaasa on the eastern shores of the Gulf of Bothnia.
“It’s a four-hour ferry,” he said, “so already we will be looking into ways to bring in spectators across from Finland.”
The flip side of that closeness with a Nordic neighbour is the potential for back-to-back winter rallies.
Understandably, Olsson’s less enthusiastic about a plan to link with Arctic Rally Finland.
Olsson said: “Our event needs spectators and I’m not sure we want to split the fans with two events in two weeks. If the WRC Promoter can see some upsides for this… actually, I can’t.”