Closer to the Arctic Circle, competitors faced sub-zero temperatures and frozen roads fringed by deep snowdrifts for this year’s Rallye Sweden.
The second round of the 2022 World Rally Championship (WRC) proved to be a test drive for many of the teams as the new hybrid-powered Rally 1 cars moved into the Västerbotten region, 700km further north than previous WRC races. events. 17 special stages around the northern city of Umeå.
Originally planned as a 19 special stage event, the 20.49km stage in Örträsk, which was to run on Saturday morning and again in the afternoon as the stage’s final daylight stage, had to be canceled due to reindeer movement.
Rallye Monte Carlo winner and runner-up and current drivers’ championship leaders, Sébastien Loeb and Sébastien Ogier, were not among the 50 strong entries as both chose not to compete for the entire season.
This meant opening the way for third-placed driver in the title chase, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Kalle Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen. The team had set the fastest time during the previous day’s shakedown sessions.
Day 1 of the rally proved to be a tough experience for many of the crews, with the lead changing five times over the seven stages, the drivers being taken aback by the lack of grip due to exceptionally thick snow.
M-Spot Ford’s Gus Greensmith and co-driver Jonas Andersson went past a right angle and had to stop and reverse and lose 21.2 seconds on stage one, teammate Craig Breen with Paul Nagle plunged into a snow bank halting stage 2 to affected car.
It was hard to believe how many first day problems were experienced by almost all the top runners, many hitting and burying their cars in snowdrifts, stalling, electrical issues and lost bodywork (affecting aerodynamics), transmission problems and a few spins without the hybrid system due to unexplained system malfunctions.
Stage winners of the day were Hyundai’s Ott Tanäk and Rovanperä, who both won two, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Elfyn Evans and Esapekka Lappi, and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, who won one each. It was Neuville, who was 4.3 seconds ahead of second-placed Rovanpera in the overnight stoppage, who was 3.1 seconds ahead of Evans in third.
An encouraging return for Esapekka Lappi and his co-driver Janne Ferm in the third Yaris, they won the second stage and took the overall lead, albeit for a short time. Breen and Tanäk both retired with mechanical problems, but later rejoined the rally. A very tough first day!
The first stage on day two and Rovanperä makes his intention very clear by winning the first stage and regaining the lead, a position he wouldn’t give up.
Oliver Solberg in the third Hyundai Shell Mobis i20 N struggles to find more pace and constantly loses time. Neuville still struggled for traction and in stage 11 he went past a corner and dropped 11 seconds while, after a few set-up changes, Breen finally found form and won the stage.
The day was a battle between Rovanperä and Evans, with Lappi and Neuville poised to take positions should the two protagonists falter. On the penultimate stage of the day Craig Breen’s Puma came to a stop after just 2km, the engine wouldn’t start and he uses the car’s electrical power to get to a safer place, it’s all over for the day.
The young Finn would take three more stage wins on day two with a lead of 8.3 seconds over teammate Evans and 21.7 seconds over Neuville. The Belgian admitted he was unwilling to match Rovanperä’s bravery in the nighttime speed tests.
Solberg dropped from 5th to 7e due to a gas problem on his i20N. Evans was extremely lucky on the final stage of the day as he overshot the final square to the right of the stage, the Yaris shot through a snow bank and ended up on a road parallel to the time control, a lucky break, but one that would cost him dearly .
Sunday morning, the last day and unfortunately a new M-Sport Ford came to an end as Adrien Fourmaux had to pull his Puma back on the road section to the first stage of the day with obvious engine problems.
Rovanperä’s prospects for a third WRC victory looked very good with only four short stages to go and less busy after news that Evans had been given a 10-second penalty for the previous evenings off-road excursion on SS15.
The Welshman entered the 16th stage with second overall, but he was aware that the penalty had put him within Neuville’s reach, so he had to push hard to maintain his position.
He pushed hard, until a mistake resulted in him crashing into a snow bank and sustaining heavy damage to the front of the TGR Yaris, resulting in his heartbreaking retirement and handing second place to the Belgian.
Rovanperä drove the perfect rally and won second place 22 seconds ahead of Neuville with Lappi 8.6 seconds further back. The conditions proved to be a real test for the new hybrid Rally 1 cars, even Rovanperä ended up without the hybrid system working.
With the next event not scheduled to take place until the end of April, the factories will have some breathing room to sort out these initial issues, if they really are issues, as Sweden’s Rallye offers the toughest weather of the season with temperatures as low as -25 degrees Celsius.
The series is taking an early season break and will return for the Croatia Rally on April 21-24. The asphalt event takes place in the capital Zagreb.
1. K.Rovanperä/J.Halttunen Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
2. T.Neuville/M.Wydaeghe Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20
3. E.Lappi/J.Ferm Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
4. T.Katsuta/A.Johnston Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
5. G. Greensmith/J.Andersson M-Sport Ford WRT Puma
6 O.Solberg/E.Edmondson Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20
7. A. Mikkelsen/T.Eriksen Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo
8. O.Veiby/S.Skjærmoen Volkswagen Polo GTI R5
9. J. Huttunen/ M. Lukka Ford Fiesta WRC
10. N.Gryazin/K.Aleksandrov Skoda Fabia Rally2 evo
20. O.Tanak/M.Jarveoja Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20
36. C.Breen/P.Nagle Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20
FIA World Rally Championship Drivers (after round 2 of 13)
1. K. Rovanperä 46
2. T. Neuville 32
3. S.Loeb 27
4. G. Greensmith 20
5. S.Ogier 19
6. T. Katsuta 18
7. C. Breen 16
8. E.Lappi 15
9. A. Mikkelsen 12
10. O. Solberg 8
11. O. Tänak 5
13. E. Evans 4
18. A. Fourmaux 0
FIA World Rally Championship Manufacturers (after round 2 of 13)
1. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 83
2. M-Sport Ford WRT 59
3.Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 47
4. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 22