Being huge fans of Vintage Rally cars, and having participated in few, we have always been pretty far from the modern days WRC. This year we decided to give it a chance and we left for Sweden in order to learn more about the first class of Rally cars in one of the most spectacular appointments of the World Rally championship Calendar.
First held in 1950, it was initially called the “Rally of the Midnight Sun” as it was held in summer and it became a winter event in 1965, leaving the summer appointment to the Finnish “1000 Lakes”. Rally Sweden is one of the oldest rallies in the world. It is also the only rally on the WRC calendar to take place entirely on snow and ice, making it a popular spectacle among fans worldwide. In recent years it has faced some challenges due to unpredictable weather conditions and the higher temperatures has forced organizers to cancel some stages and move the rally to a different northern location, in the area of Ümea.
Historically dominated by nordic drivers, Sebastien Loeb was the first non-scandinavian driver to win the Rally in 2004, while the legendary Stig Blomqvist tops the roll of honor with seven wins. The 2023 Championship sees on the starting grid 3 different brands on the Rally 1 Category: Toyota, with the Yaris GR, Hyundai with the i20N and M-Sport, official team racing with the Ford Puma.
The first appointment of the year, the legendary Monte Carlo Rally in January, was won by Sebastien Ogier, with Kalle Rovanpera, 2022 Champion, in second place.
In Sweden we find 52 cars on the starting grid, with 9 Rally 1 entries, 3 Official Toyota (Rovanpera, Evans, Katsuta), the italian Lorenzo Bertelli as a private team still with the Yaris, 2 M-Sport Ford Puma (Tanak, Loubet) and 3 Hyundai (Neuville, Lappi and Breen).
The driver’s would have to complete 18 Special Stages, for a total of 300 kms. The regulation states the use of a single type of tyre, in this case all cars will be equipped with Pirelli “Sottozero” Ice J1B, with 20mm long spikes to help catch the grip on the frozen surfaces.
Arriving at the Luleå Airport, 400 kms north of Umea, we immediately take delivery of our Audi Q5 with spiked tires, mandatory on the completely frozen roads of Northern Sweden. While the week before the temperatures in this area were close to -20, during the event were much higher, between -8 and +2 degrees. We soon understand that next time we would better rent a snowmobile instead of an SUV, way more reliable to reach the special stages like all the Swedish do. Barbecues, flags, beers, the atmosphere is fascinating with super organized spectators waiting in the forests for hours for the rally cars to arrive.
The sound of the Rally 1 cars is so strong that you can hear whistles and bangs in the forests way before their arrival. Tanak’s Puma literally flies in front of us, followed by all the others within 3 minutes of distance. While the first day was dominated by Craig Breen in the Hyundai, the overall win was for the Estonian champion Ott Tänak who became the first in the World Rally Championship classification ahead of Kalle Rovanpera.
In conclusion we have to admit that this trip was absolutely worth it, and while we will always choose the screaming Ferrari’s V6 of a Stratos Group 4, we cannot deny the spectacularity of the modern Rally 1 cars with their high-performance hybrid 4-cylinder engines. The charme of the Rally discipline is definitely not lost at all, and we can’t wait to participate at the next appointment somewhere around the world.