Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen have contested Rally Sweden on ten previous occasions finishing on the podium five times and winning the event with Ford and M-Sport in both 2010 and 2011. Their 2011 victory came on the Fiesta RS WRC's maiden outing. In fact, the Fiesta claimed a clean-sweep of the podium that year – making it one of rallying's most successful WRC debuts.
The art of winter rallying comes naturally to the Finn who first learnt to drive whilst sitting on his father's knee on a frozen lake. Needless to say, Hirvonen's season starts here and he will be looking towards a podium finish.
By contrast, next week will mark Elfyn Evans' first venture to Sweden's snow-covered stages. The Welshman has never contested a snow rally with studded tyres. Partnered by co-driver Daniel Barritt, the pairing will be looking to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible. With the goal of making it through all 24 stages unscathed, this will provide another perfect opportunity for Evans to continue his development as one of the championship's most promising up-and-coming young talents.
Mikko Hirvonen said: "We've just completed a really good test and I'm feeling good. We knew from past experience that the Fiesta [RS WRC] would be really strong in the high-speed sections, and it was great to see that I had that same good feeling straight away.”
"Rally Sweden is extra fun when it's really cold and there is a lot of snow – there's nothing better than bouncing your car off the compacted snow banks at high speed. Although the region has had some good snow fall recently, there might not be much ice and that could be tricky. It means that there will be a lot of gravel coming through the snow which makes tyre management really important.”
"I've won this rally twice before, but I wouldn't say that there was much of a secret to doing well here. It used to favour the Scandinavians, but I think last year proved that that is no longer the case and anyone can be quick here.”
"The main thing to remember is to really commit to the stages. Especially in the high-speed sections, you need the confidence to go flat-out. It's one of those events where a driver needs to really attack, but in the narrow sections you also have to be very precise. There's a very narrow line that forms, and if you venture off that line you can easily find yourself in trouble.”
Elfyn Evans said: "This will be my first time driving a proper snow rally with full studded tyres, but I'm feeling good about the challenges ahead. We've had a really good test which has helped a lot with the confidence, but obviously the rally itself will be a completely different experience. Even the recce will be new to us – discovering how to best prepare the notes for these kinds of conditions.”
"I think that the type of snow we encounter will be key. At the moment, it looks like it's going to be fairly mild in Värmland so that could make it quite tricky and we will need to ensure that we take care to look after the studded tyres. We just need to take everything as it comes, one stage at a time, and gain as much experience as possible.”
"Of course Mikko [Hirvonen] and Jarmo [Lehtinen] are well versed when it comes to this event. They have a lot of experience on snow and have won the rally twice already so we'll be looking to harness their experience as much as we can. They've already been really helpful. After Monte and during this week's test we have exchanged a lot of questions. Their advice will be invaluable to us later this week."