BLOG: Best Rally Sweden Ever?

For many hardcore rally fans (especially Scandinavian ones) it's not "the Monte" in January, but Rally Sweden in February that's the purist rally event. It's certainly the most sideways! The 'Swedish rally to the midnight sun' might have started in the 1950s, but it began proper in 1965, when organisers shifted it to the coldest, snowiest month of the year – February – thus creating the WRC's only true 'Winter' event, on pure ice and with lots and lots of snow. Out with the studded tyres, bobble hats and goose down jackets folks! 

The event is always a highlight for us at Road HQ – and has been since we witnessed the Saab 99 Turbo blasting through the utterly stunning forest stages in the hands of legend Stig Blomqvist in the late 1970s. His incredible record of five wins from seven still stands at the event today. Then came the Quattro 4WD dominance era, started in 1981 by a win for the amazing Hannu Mikkola, and the event has never been won by a 2WD car since, unsurprisingly. 

Historically, the event has always been won by a Scandinavian driver – born into the specialist techniques of rally driving on snow and using the snow banks to help you along the stages. That was until 2004, when WRC's most successful driver, Sebastian Loeb kicked ass. And since then, the Scandinavian dominance has faltered, with Sebastian Ogier taking a win here in the VW Polo's inaugural year in 2013.  

And so to the 2015 Rally Sweden. No Loeb again after his Monte run. And with VW's new 2015 car already proving its pace straight out of the blocks, could the Hyundai, Citroen & Ford WRC cars – all of which are just re-worked versions of last year's car until later in the season – play catch up to the dominant VW?

You bet! 

What we ended up with was one of the most thrilling WRC events in the modern active differential, hydraulically operated gearbox era – with three drivers, VW's handsome young gun, Andreas Mikkelsen & super-champ Sebastian Ogier and Hyundai's uber-cool Thierry Neuville all battling for the win, with just 10s between the three, up to the very last Power Stage. Incredible stuff after 20 testing special stages!

Has the 2015 regulation change to not allow drivers access to split times in the stages made a difference? I should say so.   

Both of the young pretenders to the WRC crown – Belgian Thierry Neuville and Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen – had been leading the event, with Andreas going into the very last power stage up three seconds over Ogier. Not much... but enough? He certainly thought so. 

But, oh-so cruelly, as only great sport like rallying can do, the boy wonder tried a fraction too hard under the pressure of Ogier & Neuville and he ran wide into a snow bank near the middle of the stage. The baks that had helped him into P1 throughout the event turned on him and sucked his VW Polo WRC R in – robbing him of victory. But thankfully, the snow bank let him out with just enough time to spare to claim the last spot on the podium, even if those 40 seconds must have felt like a lifetime to him. Of course, there was no real way Neuville was going to take four seconds out of Ogier – or throw a Hyundai podium – on such a short 17Km stage either. So the champ did it, again. 

Mikkelsen proved though what lovely, lovely guys are in the sport of rallying – and was first to jump out of his car and congratulate both his VW Motorsport team-mate, Ogier and Hyundai's No.1 Neuville. What a sportsman. And the fact that he was later spotted shedding a tear or two in the service area (like another good old Norwegian rally boy we love, Petter Solberg was famed for) just goes to prove what a passionate, cool guy he is. 

In the final analysis, yes, it was another VW win by the irrepressible Ogier and another VW on the podium in Mikkelsen (Latvala never recovered from a snow bank incident & subsequent problems early on in the event)... but such a close finish is so rare these days and especially between three drivers and two teams, decided on the last few kilometers. Fantastic! And it was awesome of Jost Capito and VW Motorsport to allow his drivers to scrap it out, full chat, to the bitter end, with no team orders. Fabulous.

Better still for the sport's diversity and global interest, Hyundai had an immense event, bagging that fantastic podium P2 with Thierry Neuville and with Hayden Paddon securing his best ever WRC result with fifth place. And their sterling efforts have now taken the team into second place in the manufacturer's championships. Hell, they even ran three cars and got them all to the finish, with Kevin Abbring completing his debut event in the #20 Hyundai i20 WRC, finishing just outside of the top ten in 11th place! Result. 

Elsewhere, MSport's Ott Tänak showed some incredible pace over the weekend in his Fiesta too, running at the top of the 'best of the rest' field behind the top three, netting a comfortable forth place – even after a snow bank off cost him lots of time on SS2. 

Finally, from a British perspective, both talented chaps continue to make WRC progress – with M-Sport and Ford's Elfyn Evans nailing down sixth place and Kris Meeke and his Citroen seventh. It's all good experience and points... 

Ogier said: "I'm so happy, so proud! I have no words. I'm gonna enjoy it a lot! It's so good when it's a happy ending like that! I've done everything I could. This one is a crazy one! We had to push flat out from the begining to the end. It's an amazing victory!"

Neuville said: “What a rally this has been! We have not had such a close battle for the victory for a long time and it has been great to be a part of such a thrilling finale. Nobody really expected us to be challenging for the win here, so it has been a brilliant performance. Of course, I pushed hard to get the win, taking quite a few risks, and I could honestly not have done more. A second place is still a very nice result for me and for everyone in the team, who have worked hard.”

Mikkelsen said: "So close! We gave it our best shot, but touched a snow bank and got stuck. But what a great battle!! We tried our best for the win, but ended third. We battled with the world champion to the final split! Next time!!" 

Roll on Rally Mexico, March 6-9th. And for those who want to catch up on terrestrial TV in the UK, ITV4's event report is Tuedsay 17th February 8pm. 

Overall Classification1. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC)
2. T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +6.4
3. A. Mikkelsen / O. Floene (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 39.8
4. O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:26.0
5. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:31.5
6. E. Evans / D. Barritt (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +3:53.0
7. K. Meeke / P. Nagle (Citroën DS3 WRC) +4:05.8
8. M. Prokop / J. Tomanek (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:26.0
9. Y. Protasov / P. Cherepin (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +5:32.2
10. M. Østberg / J. Andersson (Citroën DS3 WRC) +6:50.9

2015 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ StandingsS. Ogier 53 points / T. Neuville 30 / A. Mikkelsen 30 / J.M. Latvala 19 / M. Østberg 14 / E. Evans 14 / O. Tanak 12 / H. Paddon 10 / K. Meeke 10 / D. Sordo 8 / M. Prokop 6 / S. Loeb 6 / K. Abbring 1

Manufacturer's standings 1. Volkswagen Motorsport 68 points
2. Hyundai Motorsport 55 points
3. M-Sport World Rally Team 32 points
4. Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 20 points
5. Volkswagen Motorsport II 15 points.


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