On with the slide show: WRC hits the snow in Sweden
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Provided the weather plays ball with freezing temperatures, the World Rally Championship will deliver its winter slide show this weekend.
WRC Rally Sweden — a slight misnomer as six of the stages are on roads across the border in Norway — is rallying’s studded skinny tyre showcase on fast, flowing and hopefully frozen Scandinavian roads.
The second round of the 2019 championship starts Friday morning (NZ time) with the traditional Thursday evening Karlstad trotting track super-special stage, the beginning of a route that includes 19 stages and 319.17km of competition.
The Friday leg takes the crews across into Norway for two loops through the Hof-Finnskog, Svullrya and Rojden stages before moving back into Sweden for the Torsby stage to complete the longest day of competition at 138.78km. Saturday double loops through the Rammen, Hagfors and Vargasen stages before a return to Karlstad and a shortened Torsby sprint stage run in darkness.
The Sunday finale has only three stages — two runs through Likenas and the full Torsby stage that will decide Power Stage bonus points.
The Citroen, M-Sport Ford, Hyundai and Toyota teams have the same driver line-ups used at the Monte Carlo season opener, including Sebastien Loeb making his second of six scheduled appearances as a Hyundai Motorsport driver.
Twelve months ago it was Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville (Belgium) who won the Swedish event.
There are three additions to the usual 2019 roster of 11 manufacturer teams entered WRC cars.
For the first time a fourth Toyota Yaris WRC will be on the stages with a one-off outing by two-time world champion Marcus Gronholm (Finland). Gronholm retired from full-time rallying after 2007 and a Rally Sweden appearance in 2010 was his most recent WRC start. Italian Lorenzo Bertelli and Finland’s Janne Tuohino will drive Ford Fiesta WRCs this weekend.
Rally Sweden also sees a five-car entry in the new WRC2 Pro category headed by Rallye Monte Carlo winner Gus Greensmith (GB) in a Ford Fiesta R5. Poland’s Lukasz Pieniazek (Ford), Skoda drivers Kalle Rovanpera and Eerik Pietarinen from Finland and Mads Ostberg (Norway) driving a Citroen C3 R5 complete the WRC2 Pro entry.
Other WRC2 entries include World Rallycross champion and reigning Scandinavian Touring Car champ Johan Kristoffersson (Sweden) in a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 and Henning Solberg (Norway) in a Skoda Fabia R5. This weekend is also the opening round of the 2019 Junior WRC, with 13 crews entered in identically prepared Ford Fiesta R2s.
Rally Sweden completes the winter season start to the 2019 World Rally Championship with the third round in Mexico set to run from March 7-10.
2019 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 1 of 14)
1. Sebastien Ogier (France) Citroen — 29
2. Thierry Neuville (Belgium) Hyundai — 21
3. Ott Tanak (Estonia) Toyota — 17
4. Kris Meeke (GB) Toyota — 13
5. Sebastien Loeb (France) Hyundai — 12
6 Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) Toyota— 10