Did you know that between 1950 and 2003, only Swedish and Finnish drivers won the snowy Rally Sweden? And then in 2004, along came Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena in the Citroën Xsara WRC, with Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti in a second car. And since then? 10 years of virtual domination by one marque – and one man!
That’s quite a pedigree. Since his Rally Sweden debut in 2006, as an 18 year old, Mads Østberg has scored three podium finishes at this round in the last three years and great expectations are being heaped upon him by his home fans.
“I was a little afraid before starting my first rally in the WRC,” recalled Mads. “To be honest, I hadn‘t driven in that many events before I found myself in the big time. But I just had to learn as I went along, because I was determined to get to the top level. It is important to have dreams … I have always set myself goals. I have achieved some of them, but there are some others I have yet to achieve!
Having finished second in 2011, third in 2012 and 2013, expectations are high this weekend: “It’s one of the most important races of our season. The aim is to finish on the podium. If everything goes well, I want to try and fight for the win. We’ll have a lot of fans cheering us on alongside the roads. And although I am very focussed on my racing line, I still notice our fans waving the Norwegian and Swedish flags!”
Fresh from their podium finish at Rallye Monte-Carlo, Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle will tackle their first ever Rally Sweden. “I’ve never competed on any rally on snow,” admitted Kris. “It will be a new experience for me. At least the team know what kind of difficulties I will be up against. I am going to concentrate on learning and forget about the actual result.”
“I know I’m quick on tarmac and gravel, but I have no real idea about how I’ll manage on snow,” he added. “During testing, I’ll sit next to Mads to watch how he drives. And then it’ll be down to me to learn about everything: the car, the tyres, and so on. Our rivals have a lot more experience than we do. They will undoubtedly go very fast. I’ll just have to put that out of my mind so I can learn and progress at my own pace. And above all, avoid making any mistakes.”
This year, Abu Dhabi’s Khalid Al Qassimi and Northern Ireland’s Chris Patterson will concentrate on the Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) but they will also compete in four rounds of the WRC. This weekend he will swap the sand and heat of the Middle East for the snow and icicles of Sweden.
This will be his fifth visit to Sweden though, but recalls his first with some awe: “I decided to push myself to the limit and set myself the challenge of taking Colin’s Crest flat out. And believe it or not, I won the prize for the longest jump that year!” He added: “I’m pleased to be able to call upon the experience of Chris Patterson this season. He will be a real asset in helping me to secure some good results.”
The rally gets underway on Wednesday evening (5 Feb) at 8.04pm with a 1.9 km-long super special stage held on the city’s racecourse and finish on Saturday evening.