The Rally of Sweden is one of the hardest in the WRC calendar, both on the cars and competitors, and this week it all kicks off in Karlstad
The World Rally Championship moves on to Sweden this week with a lot of the drivers hoping that Volkswagen won’t be able to dominate and once again claim all three of the top spots as they did in the first event of the year in Monte Carlo. The victory of Ogier/Ingrassia with Latvala/Anttila second and their teammates, Mikkelsen/Floene grabbing third was an outstanding statement of intent from Volkswagen, but can they build on this blazing start?
Certainly the conditions are likely to be different and the Swedish rally has more than the meager fifteen stages of which Monte Carlo comprised, but what can the drivers expect over the next few days? Well for a start those conditions are going to be changeable, the temperatures beginning above zero in bright sunshine for the early stages and sliding into sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow before the weekend which could produced some interesting situations.
With twenty-one stages over the four days of competition, including the Super Special Stage that gives photographers all the excuse they’ll ever need to try an capture an image of a car with all four wheels of the ground, they’ll be racing over 1,441.57km in total using some of the most challenging roads in the world. Tight twisting turns through the pine-trees and undulating dashes down drift-prone backroads make for some of the best TV coverage of the rally, and by Sunday we’ll know if Volkswagen are going to run away with the trophy this year.
Obviously the Monte Carlo clean sweep was mostly a result of the technical issues suffered by Sebastien Loeb and his co-driver Daniel Elena, who would normally have challenged for the top spot and Thierry Neuville will be lookning to improve on his fifth placing in the more demanding conditions of Sweden gambling news on Sunday will be of anything but another Volkswagen 1,2,3 finish, and the Norwegian Mads Ostberg will be just as eager to make use of his more local knowledge and split up the runaway boys in blue.
How Will The Norwegians Perform In Norway?
That local knowledge is probably going to count this week as the Nordic weather sets up a challenge for the Frenchmen Ogier who must worry his teammate Latvala, being from Finland, will have a better handle on the changing conditions, and Mikkelsen (from Norway) is likewise going to be right on the pace. Kris Meeke, with Paul Nagle alongside, managed only tenth in Monte Carlo and they’ll be desperate to make a far better showing in Sweden whatever the weather.
World Rally Championship
• Second event of the year in Sweden
• 1,442km Race over four days
• Some stages held in neighboring Norway
Now you might think me generalizing a bit with my insistence that the Nordic drivers will have some advantage over the Frenchman Ogier in Sweden but lets remember that a third of the stages in this years Swedish event are either modified or wholly new, with some of them actually taking place in neighboring Norway leaving Mikkelsen and Ostberg racing on home soil much of Friday which is bound to bring the crowds out.
Whether that specific knowledge is enough to swing things their way is still a matter of conjecture but when any advantage is a good advantage they’re bound to try and use it to push them up the classifications. This is likely to be as true for the single Norwegian entrant in WRC3, the young Ole-Christian Veiby, in his D3 4 R3-MAX who has nothing to lose and a reputation to build up, and there’s nothing like a home crowd for doing that, so expect his two-wheel drive car to be pushing hard at the end of the week.
Dani Sordo, from Spain, whose battle with the Belgian Neuville in Monte Carlo saw him lose out by just 0.8 of a second is another driver to watch, although not as happy in the snow and shifting gravel surfaces of this rally his skill is undeniable and his ability to capitalize on the unforced errors of his opponents will almost certainly see him right up with his teammates vying for the points. Of course those that like to bet on sports in Sweden will already know his odds against those of Neuville don’t really reflect current performances.
Place Your Bets On The Frenchman
Websites like ComeOn! Sportsbook have Sordo a rather miserable 51.00, languishing down by the Pole Robert Kubica on 52.50, which seems a tad unfair given Thierry Neuville is on 36.00 and only finished that first event of the year point eight of a second ahead. Still Ostberg fares little better in their opinions with just 34.00 despite his evident potential and healthy fourth place in the championship on 12 points. But then in terms of the championship there’s a long way to go and experience counts.
This is probably why despite Swedish gambling laws people are still backing the Frenchmen Sebastien Ogier to build on his initial 25 point haul for winning in Monte Carlo and go on to win yet another championship. Sustaining the season long effort required perhaps not as easy as it looks on the television as the landscape blurs and someone crackles static laden instructions across the headset feed. His odds on coming out top after Novembers GB rally (the season finale) are just 1.12 and that’s not far wrong.
Of course Latvala is in with a shout, something his performance in January proved, and having 19 points for coming in second, albeit almost a minute behind the runaway Frenchman, but that still leaves bookies putting him at 5.50 for the championship which puts the third of the Volkswagen podium invasion at just 21.00. Even Kris Meeke comes in better than the Spaniard at 26.00 which is probably going to lengthen if he doesn’t pull his finger out in the backroads of Sweden, and indeed Norway, this week.
With Formula 1 turning into a parade the World Rally Championship is beginning to sap away interest from the posh boys circus and it’ll be interesting to see just how many Norwegians come out to cheer on their nation’s drivers as the rally passes through. Obviously as soon as Sweden is done the whole crazy collection of enthusiastic four-wheel-drive crazies will be off to Rally in Mexico, but for now it’s all eyes on Sweden, the Frenchman, and the weather.