Rally Sweden 2019 from the inside
As a French Riviera child, I’ve always been impressed by rally races such as Tour de Corse, Rally Sweden or Rally di Sanremo. Franck and I, we used to admire rally cars at Monte Carlo and on Colin McRae video games. The Subaru Impreza WRC made us particularly dreamy with gigantic hood air intakes, flashy stripes and huge spoiler, it was the car we loved to see and drive (on Windows 98).
From Monte Carlo to Australia, we were driving on the winding roads like if there’s no tomorrow. However, I must admit that we had a preference: Turini and Vargåsen. What’s the common point? Snow! More it drifts, more it’s funny.
The World Rally Championship in 2019 (skip if you already are an expert)
Today everything has changed, or almost. If you have just woken up after a 20 years sleep, Subaru is no longer the championship winner. Sorry, it’s been years the team doesn’t exist anymore (around 10! Wow!).
If you were stuck in 2008, also know that Citroën Racing is no longer on top but Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT, Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT and M-Sport Ford WRT have replaced it. 2019 rally stars are Toyota Yaris WRC, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, Ford Fiesta WRC and Citroën C3 WRC (yes they are back in the game since they hired Sébastien Ogier for 2019 season). Nowadays, rally cars are tiny hatchback 4WD 1.6L turbocharged outputting 380 ch. A little more than the car you just bought at the dealership close to home.
2019 World Rally Cars must follow some criteria among others as:
– low engine and the cylinder head must be based on a series engine
– it must have differential front and rear mechanical, and central differential controlled
– minimum weight authorized is 1190 kg empty and 1350 kg with the crew
– it must have been sold as standard at least 2 500 cars per year
You’ve bought a Toyota Yaris in the last few years? Thanks to you! If Jari-Matti Latvala, Ott Tänak and Kris Meeke can race with Toyota Gazoo Racing is partly because of you. Be proud of your little Yaris Hybrid (or Toyota RAV4)!
On top of that, the cars they use come from the same production line as yours. Indeed, the original cars are from the Valenciennes (France) factory and then prepared at Gazoo Racing workshop with Tommi Mäkinen’s team, based in Finland and Estonia (Reminder: Mäkinen is just a quadruple world champion, deal with it).
The little Yaris, cute city car, has become a fierce race car. It gets white, black and red war painting which makes it less discreet than those we used to cross every day on supermarket parking. Equipped with a very impressive aerodynamic kit, it gains enlarged wheel arches, air intakes everywhere and a big (very big) carbon fiber spoiler to grip on any conditions, just like all the other competitors.
End of the 2018 season was epic with the victory of Jari-Matti Latvala at the last rally in Australia. And that doesn’t include the dropping out of Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak, Sebastien Ogier crowned as 2018 World Champion for the sixth consecutive time (yes, sixth, you read that correctly). Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT was also able to do well by winning the constructor’s world championship, thanks to the talents of the young driver Tänak and the experienced Latvala, who finished third and fourth.
In 2019, Kris Meeke and Sebastien Marshall have joined the Gazoo Racing WRT. Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja want their money back and win their first World Rally Championship. Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul still want to be one of the WRC champions. Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia want a seventh title (encore?). And Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are back for six crazy races. Alright, showtime, folks.
WRC Rally Sweden 2019: slush for everybody
Back after Rally Monte Carlo, first event of the 2019 season, and quite good results for Toyota Gazoo Racing (Tänak 3rd, Latvala 5th and Meeke 6th), we are invited by the team to follow 2019 Rally Sweden! You know us, we didn’t hesitate for a moment. After a two and a quarter hours flight, we are in Oslo, Norway. Almost the same through Swedish roads and we joined the team near Torsby in the late afternoon of the second day of competition.
Cars are coming back from their Rally Sweden 8 super specials. They already have driven more than 120 kilometers for a day and half through Scandinavian forest. The current weather in Sweden is rather mild, snow melts and begins slush. The pilots have quite bad condition because snow is soft, sticky, almost liquid. Especially because cars have only studded tires each equipped with 384 nails (I touched that, it could be the most effective spining cheese grater ever made).
Grönholm at the end of the first day said: “Oy, oy, oy! That was not nice. We had to reverse to turn around. The temperature is not okay … “. While Tänak seems to be delighted: “The line is bad, lots of gravel and so much slush. In these conditions the best works, and gives great performance.”. And then, he changes the tone “My tires were moving about at the end. The conditions are bad with the narrow roads and the slush.”.
After the race, through the tents, we can see cars covered with mud and melted snow. Around them, each mechanic is focused on his task. They only have 40 minutes, no more no less, to control, repair and settle the three cars involved by the Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT. Race must go on early in the morning. We can’t wait!
Colin’s Crest: where racing cars are racing aircrafts
The next day, we went to an authentic temporary Viking village: Colin’s Crest Arena. After a few minutes of hiking between birch trees, we arrive at the edge of the track. Nearly 1 000 people are already waiting for rally fever. It must be said, rally is probably Scandinavian national sport. Every season for 67 years, Rally Sweden gathers about 200 000 people, almost 100 million TV viewers worldwide, and Finland Rally just as much. Respectively for countries of 9.9 million and 5.5 million of inhabitants, this is more than 2% and almost 4% of the population who come to these events.
For us it’s a total immersion in Scandinavian way of life. It’s 9am and the sausages are already on the grill. Yeah, every family or group of friends came with his sledge filled with logs to make a winter camp fire. Sitting on small folding chairs or synthetic fur, beers cool in the snow, everybody is enjoying a friendly moment in the countryside.
Even a toboggan run is improvised. Everyone slides as fast as possible on the bump. Some take off, fly off with panache and fall heavily with a lot of laughs. It was a training before racing cars show. A few minutes later the first car is announced: we hear an intense joy in the crowd: this is Rally Sweden.
The conditions are better than yesterday, as Latvala proves: “Absolutely fantastic for me and the car. A great feeling.”
Camera in hand I expect to make the best photo of this trip. And suddenly, I hear a big, so big remote-controlled car sound getting closer: vroooooooooom !! The car passed in a few seconds, I could see the color and realize the speed, that’s all. Oh yes, it also didn’t touch the ground.
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Indeed, Colin’s Crest is known to be a jump on a ridge during the Vargåsen stage. Here pilots make really impressive jumps. Named in 2008, it pays tribute to Colin McRae, world champion in 1995 who used to perform amazing jumps. Since 2008, a Colin’s Crest Trophy award has even been given. It rewards the craziest driver who makes the longest jump during the competition.
Colin’s Crest is a special moment in the weekend competition. This is a floating moment, a real break during the race, where points, timer don’t really count anymore. Spectators then hold their breath, cars leave the ground to become real celestial objects and when finally, cars touch the ground again, the crowd revives and cheers in the general rejoicing. Some cars slow down slightly before the bump to control the landing but most of all don’t seem like it controlled much here at Colin’s Crest or Hagfors, another famous ridge.
Kris Meeke drove so quickly to Colin’s Crest that he made a jump of 41m long. Yes 41m long, which represents a line of 10 Yaris WRC bumper to bumper!! Meeke said on Instagram after winning the Colin’s Crest Award “Honored to get the Colin’s Crest Award for longest jump of 41m. But … as a great Irish sports philosopher once wrote “jumps are for show, corners are for dough” so we’re going for the dough in Mexico !! “. You’ll do better next time Kris, the absolute record is 45 meters.
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During this day, from super special to super special, I breathed as much smoke as if I have smoked five packs of cigarettes and my hair will smell grilled sausage for 2 weeks, but the experience was absolutely amazing.
On the pilots side, let us ask what Kris Meeke think about the afternoon race: “That’s like the trickiest stage I’ve ever done in Monte Carlo. The only thing on your mind is survival. ». He probably not enjoyed it as much as us.
Super amazing terrific Special Stage
Recently, WRC organizers and FIA have wanted to make the race experience “Closer to Rally” (official slogan). That’s why we enjoy special stages in a city arena where cars race like Hotwheels toy cars.
Back to antiquity, pilots are then gladiators: they must do the show. Two cars compete on a mud and slush circuit. Each on its track, parallel to each other, they run through the loops that lead to victory. A car passes under a springboard while the other passes over it to make a jump of several meters through flames and fireworks. It’s the Karlstad Super Special Stage 2 (American-style)!
Lappi Esapekka, former Tänak’s teammate with Toyota said after the race: “I think a good job today. The afternoon was strong. Okay, Ott was killing me, but I have to be happy. “.
Rally Sweden Power Special
After these few crazy days of Swedish race there is finally … the Power Stage! This is a short special that begins into the wild and ends in front of the public. At this point, Lappi Esapekka and Germ Janne are 48.8 secondes after Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja who lead the overall standings. It was easy to say that everything was already played for the leader of this Rally Sweden 2019, especially before a race of less than 9 kilometers.
Tänak : “A great weekend so far. All working together as we wanted. One more stage to go.”.
First car starts and after a few minutes following the race on a giant screen, we heard a buzz. From a certain distance, we can see the first car jumping from hump to hump. Then at the corner of a hill, it goes under an arch formed by diggers (yes yes) and it finally appears! A last jump, it runs on a sharply road. A mixture of snow and mud twirling on the back of the car, tires are spinning, driver is swerving and in a shrill sound the rally car drifts to the next bend while other diggers do the ola on its way! This scene is just amazing, it would do for a great action film.
We all thought Tänak would just secure his place as leader of Rally Sweden. In fact, nope. He drove his Toyota rocket to the first position of the stage 3.5 seconds ahead of Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul. Nobody believed it.
After the 316.8 kilometers of Rally Sweden, Ott Tänak is on top with 47 points ahead and Neuville second with 40 points in the WRC. Next step Mexico on 03/07/2019 for a breathtaking rally season.
To be honest, I lived an incredible experience, friendly and festive moment, totally different from all the races we had already seen. You definitly must live it for once in your life. Teams, cars and pilots are much closer than in any other championship. After all that snow, mud and drifts, I want to try it ..! In fact, we already tried … with a Fiat Nuova 500 and an Austin Mini !! You can also find the whole 2019 Rally Sweden experience on our Instagram Top Story.