What’s the future of the WRC’s winter rallies?

Should we return to Rally Sweden next year or does Arctic Rally Finland deserve to be more than a one-off?


Twelve months ago, there wasn’t a snowflake to be had. But the cars were there. Ready. Last month, you couldn’t move for snow; wall-to-wall whitewash. But the cars? Eastbound. Heading for Finland.

And once in Finland, northbound for the Arctic Circle and, let’s be very, very honest here, the best winter conditions in the World Rally Championship for years.

We all know Sweden’s WRC counter was lost due to rising coronavirus numbers at the end of last year, but there’s more to the current crisis facing the Torsby-based event. There’s talk of a significant rift between the promoter of the WRC round and Sweden’s national sporting authority.

There’s the reality that the FIA rally director has told both parties he doesn’t want to see the WRC back in Torsby. In fact, he didn’t say he doesn’t want to, he told them we won’t see the WRC back in Torsby.


Photo: Hyundai Motorsport

That means Rally Sweden needs a wholesale change. There’s no room for a halfway house, basing the event out of Torsby, then looping up north each day for a remote tire zone and a couple of runs at – hopefully – more snow-sure roads. No. If Sweden wants to stay, it has to go far north.

Sadly, Karlstad and Torsby are no longer latitudinally acceptable.

And the places that are, places like the altogether awesome ski resort of Åre, simply don’t want us. Why would they? They’re ski resorts that are, by definition, already busy in the winter.

And, in the middle of this perfect storm, along comes Rovaniemi with its famous gift-giving Father Christmas, fancy Northern Lights and fabulous roads which are just packed full of snow. Obviously.

What now? What does the WRC do for a winter round next season?

When you’ve got a team led by the world’s finest rally makers, it doesn’t matter where you go – from a sporting perspective, your event’s going to be bang on. David Evans

Talk to WRC Promoter types and they’ll talk of a contract with Sweden for next season. The concern for me is the navel-gazing that accompanies such discussions. Yes, the deal’s there, but what to do about this new show in town?

One thing is sure, Arctic Rally Finland can’t be ignored next season. Estonia made a good impression when it landed on the calendar for the first time last year, but Lapland blew it away last month.

Granted, there was nothing new about the upper echelons of the Arctic Rally Finland, the likes of the clerk of the course Kai Tarkiainen come straight out of Jyväskylä and then there’s the president of Finnish ASN Jarmo Mahonen. Remember him? Yves Matton’s predecessor as the FIA’s main man in rallying. A damned good bloke who’s forgotten more about how to make great events than most in this world will ever know.

When you’ve got a team led by the world’s finest rally makers, it doesn’t matter where you go – from a sporting perspective, your event’s going to be bang on. It was.

Important as the sporting side of things is, it was Santa Claus, reindeer and the co-ordinates 66.5440° N, 25.8474° E that clinched the deal on this one.

Torsby’s a lovely place, but tell the man in the street you’re heading there for a rally and he’d be none the wiser about the challenge ahead. Tell the same fella you’re off to the Arctic Circle for a rally and he’s building a mental picture immediately. And it’s a cold one.

The flip side of all of the above is the heritage and history that the Swedish Rally (Rally Sweden for the more contemporary) brings to the sport. The Swedish helped create legends like Stig Blomqvist, Björn Waldegård on stages called Sågen and Mitandersfors.

Unfortunately, with a marketplace crowded with wannabee WRC rounds, such things count for little. Don’t forget, the RAC Rally (Rally GB for the more contemporary) created similar legends shortly before disappearing down the toilet.

For Rally Sweden CEO Glen Olsson, the weather question has become an annual debate, but this fresh onset of multi-dimensional complication to Sweden retaining its place on the calendar is a new thing.

He’s experienced enough to get over these hurdles, but positivity needs to be coming out of Rally Sweden very, very quickly.

Lapland is ready, willing and very much able.

And, don’t forget, there’s Canada. Three years ago, the Canadians talked of a five-year plan to bring Ottawa to the WRC table for the most wintry of winter WRC rounds.

That plan should come to fruition in 2023, but promoter Keith Morison has already had the discussion about fast-tracking such an event.


Photo: M-Sport World Rally Team

Maybe Arctic winner Ott Tänak has the answer. Asked for his thoughts on the Sweden or Finland question, he grinned.

“Why don’t we have two?”

Works for me.