Kalle Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen make their first appearance in this year’s FIA World Rally Championship when Sweden hosts round two of the season from February 15-18 in Umeå, a university city in the north-eastern Västerbotten region, for the third year running.
The Finns, who claimed back-to-back FIA WRC titles in 2023, are undertaking a partial schedule of events in 2024 aimed at giving 23-year-old Rovanperä the opportunity to take a rest and sample other forms of motor sport.
Part of the WRC schedule when the championship began in 1973, Rally Sweden remains one of motor sport’s most exhilarating spectacles. Drivers depend upon tungsten-tipped steel-studded tyres being able to bite into the ice-coated rollercoaster-style forest roads and give them crucial grip. The snowbanks that line the stages also provide additional stability for drivers cornering at high speed.
The event forms the opening round of the 2023 FIA Junior WRC Championship for young drivers competing in identical Ford Fiesta Rally3s run by M-Sport Poland on Pirelli tyres. The popularity of the series is underlined by the largest line-up in two decades with a record 19 crews registered for the Swedish curtain raiser, including the four drivers who graduated from the FIA Rally Star training season in 2023.
In total, 57 competitors are entered for the ice and snow event – an increase of five compared to 2023. They will provide a unique and highly memorable experience for the thousands of spectators packing the fan zones located throughout the route. This includes the Red Barn Arena, the rally’s fan-focused hub close to the centre of Umeå and the setting of the finish of the final stage on all four legs.
Official supplier Pirelli equips all Rally1 cars with the latest version of its Sottozero Ice studded tyre on Rally Sweden. Excluding shakedown, teams are restricted to 28 tyres for the event.
More than 4000 volunteers are giving up their team without financial reward to help ensure the safe and successful running of Rally Sweden.
THE ROUTE IN SHORT
While leg two’s double use, 15.65-kilometre, Vännäs test is the only all-new stage, approximately one third of the competitive route, which totals 300.10 kilometres, has been revamped for 2024. The timed action begins on Thursday February 18 with the Umeå Sprint stage.
That’s followed on Friday morning by the first of two runs through the Brattby stage, renamed #42 Brattby as a tribute to the late Craig Breen, who set the fastest time on both runs in 2023 driving a Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid carrying the number 42. The subsequent Norrby test is unchanged at the start but differs significantly to the 2023 layout thereafter. From Norrby, crews venture even further afield from Umeå to Floda, the longest of the rally at 28.25 kilometres and the event’s most northerly stage. Friday’s leg concludes with a rerun of the Umeå Sprint.
Three stages (Vännäs, Sarsjöliden and Bygdsiljum) each run twice, plus the first try of the Umeå test, make up Saturday’s route after which interim championship points are awarded. Bygdsiljum covers part of the Bostmark stage from 2023 and also gets a new, faster start location and revised finish. At 28.06 kilometres, it’s the second longest of the rally.
Sunday’s deciding leg begins with back-to-back visits to the significantly altered Västervik test ahead of the Wolf Power Stage – the same layout as the Umeå stage from Saturday evening – from 12:15 hrs local time. The podium ceremony is due to begin in the Red Barn Arena at 13:30 hrs.
RALLY SWEDEN DATA
Stage distance: 300.10 km
Total distance: 1202.11 km
Number of stages: 18
Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team: Thierry Neuville heads the Hyundai line-up as the provisional world championship leader following his Rallye Monte-Carlo victory last month. He’s joined in the Germany-based team by Ott Tänak, the winner in Sweden in 2023, and Esapekka Lappi, who takes over the third i20 N Rally1 Hybrid from Andreas Mikkelsen.
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team: Adrien Fourmaux and Grégoire Munster represent the British squad’s youthful look in 2024. It won Rally Sweden last year with then lead driver Tänak.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT: Reigning champion Kalle Rovanperä makes his first start of 2024 in place of Sébastien Ogier, who was second on Rallye Monte-Carlo and is also contesting selected rounds. Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta are Rally Sweden winners in the past – overall and in WRC2 respectively. Privateer Lorenzo Bertelli drives a fourth Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid.
Having chosen not to nominate Rallye Monte-Carlo as one of his seven scoring rounds, Oliver Solberg begins his WRC2 title bid on his home event aboard a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2. Isak Reiersen, who makes his WRC2 debut, is Solberg’s compatriot and childhood friend.
William Creighton steps up to WRC2 as the Junior WRC champion. The Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy-supported driver’s Ford Fiesta Rally2 is his prize for his 2023 title success.
Finns Sami Pajari and 2022 national champion Mikko Heikkilä are among the drivers relying on the new-for-2024 Toyota GR Yaris Rally2. Toyota development drivers Hikaru Kogure and Yuki Yamamoto step up to Rally2 level for 2024.
Fabrizio Zaldivar returns to WRC2 as the FIA CODASUR champion from 2023, while Emil Lindholm starts his pursuit of a second WRC2 title driving a Hyundai i20 N Rally1. Lauri Joona and last season’s FIA WRC3 champion Roope Korhonen also feature on the WRC2 entry list.
Jan Černý (Ford Fiesta Rally3) goes for more WRC3 glory in Sweden following his dominant Rallye Monte-Carlo success.
After finishing runner-up in the 2023 FIA Junior WRC Championship, Diego Dominguez is the leading seed for the opening round of the five-event Junior WRC season, which has attracted a hugely impressive 19 entries. Norbert Maior graduates to Junior WRC as the 2023 Junior ERC champion. Tom Resonnet represents the RACB National Team, while Eamonn Kelly competes under the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy banner.
FIA RALLY STAR DRIVERS TO TAKE NEXT EXCITING STEP
The four drivers who graduated from the FIA Rally Star Training Season are preparing to take the next step of their careers on Rally Sweden. Jose Caparo (Peru), Taylor Gill (Australia), Romet Jürgenson (Estonia) and Max Smart (South Africa) are contesting the FIA Junior WRC Championship as reward for their achievements in 2023 as part of the FIA’s talent detection scheme. They prepared for Rally Sweden by completing a training course at the John Haugland Winter Rally School in Norway.
BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC