The FIA World Rally Championships winter round belongs to Sweden. And Sweden belonged to the Swedes.
When the WRC opened its account 50 years ago, Karlstad followed Monte-Carlo as the second stop on the calendar. And for the next eight years, there was not a flag in the world that would wave higher than Sweden’s famous blue-yellow.
It took Audi’s four – wheel drive Quattro and a Finnish world champion in the making – Hannu Mikkola – to end the home rule in Sweden in 1981.
Since then, the rest of the world has become a bunch of fast learners. The last Swede to succeed in these stages was Kenneth Eriksson in 1997.
Video: Rally Sweden shakedown
Stig Blomqvist won the first Swedish in 1973 when he drove a Saab 96 V4.
“Saab was good for these roads,” he said. “We could drive a little more speed through the curves and, of course, we could understand the roads more than some of the other drivers. When there was a lot of snow and the big winter, the conditions were really nice.”
The move north to Umeå means more of the same when it comes to snow and freezing. And that’s what the WRC’s winter round is all about. It is the opposite of a steaming hot Safari or Sardinia. This is what makes the WRC the most complete all-round challenge in global motorsport.
“Driving in snow and ice,” said Blomqvist, “is not always so easy. You have to understand where you use the snow bank and how much grip you can take from the road. ”
Solberg is Sweden’s big hope for the future, but a first home victory in 25 years is a lot to ask of the 20-year-old on just his second WRC trip in a Hyundai i20 N Rally1.
“When we have conditions like this, it is so special. The feeling in the car is just fantastic “, he enthused.
“You have an incredible grip, better than you can believe from the studs in the tires and when you can use the snow bank and just touch it with the back and carry the speed through the curve … that feeling is the best in the car. I love it and it is that’s why we love Rally Sweden. ”
There is no place in the WRC calendar like this week. From here it is to asphalt and spring in Croatia, so make the best of seeing the world’s fastest rally cars driven by the world’s best drivers on snow – covered Swedish roads where you and I are afraid to tread.
• Full coverage from Rally Sweden is available at WRC + All Live hereincluding each stage broadcast when it takes place, as well as important interviews, features and expert analyzes from the service park.