There’s a fairly hefty gap between the Monte Carlo Rally and Rally Sweden. A whole month for the World Rally Championship teams to put their feet up and enjoy some rest and relaxation until the next round.
No. Absolutely not. Don’t be ridiculous. Rest? Forget it. They’ve been busy testing.
We can talk all day about how unique Sweden is; how there are studded tires used only once all season, developed especially for use at this rally. How despite it being snowy and icy, it’s one of the fastest rallies of the season. That stuff’s obvious.
What about the less obvious? what are the teams really looking for during their Sweden pre-event tests?
George Donaldson, previously a WRC team manager at teams including Toyota, Subaru and Mitsubishi, provided some insight on how testing for Sweden differs to the rest of the championship.
“When you go to these rallies to test, it’s all about balance and confidence, and extracting that speed, being able to lean on the car, making sure the car doesn’t twitch around and edge out too sideways, doesn’t drift into understeer,” explained Donaldson on the latest episode of SPIN, The Rally Pod.
“That’s a difficult shout now with these cars as we’re locked four-wheel drive again so it’s quite a difficult dynamic and balance. I don’t really understand the kinematics of it, and I never have pretended to – we have lovely engineers that do that for us when you’re in a team – so it’s a tricky balance to strike.
“But when you get the car right on these super high-speed rallies, it will go quickly. You will then rebalance, it’s a question of setup to get it right everywhere else.
“Everyone’s got to be looking for that lovely stable car that can feed in with confidence. You go sideways for so long on this rally and quite severely because you can lean the car on the snowbanks.”
That reliance on snowbanks makes for an unusual approach to driving the stages in Sweden. While they can be hit-or-miss to lean on – some are solid, compact and forgiving, others soft and prone to collapsing when a rally car brushes by it – they can also be used in other clever ways to go faster.
“I know it sounds like a strange thing but relatively, we can all understand the effect of a rudder, and that’s what the car is doing. The back wheels, even the side bodywork at times, is pushing into the snow and you can lean the car on it. It makes sense.
“What’s really difficult to understand and wonderful to drive and experience is when you come into a corner too quickly and they stick the nose of the car into the snow, and it drags the nose into the snow.
“If the road’s narrow enough, the back end will hit the outside, or just the sheer traction of the car and you can pull the nose out, you’ve got the car turned in and it will hold the car, drag the car around the corner on the inside.
“So it’s an interesting set of dynamics, all about balance and confidence.”