Four aces on ice

After a snow-covered Monte-Carlo rally, the World Rally Championship competitors must now brace themselves for the coldest round of the year. Studded tyres will be the order of the day on the frozen roads of Sweden and Norway for one of the season’s most spectacular rallies.

Two-time winners of the Scandinavian event, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen will be determined to come away with a strong result at one their favourite rallies. Competing on behalf of the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will not however be content to make up their numbers! This round will see Khalid Al Qassimi and Scott Martin make their competitive debut in the DS3 WRC of the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRT. Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio will also be competing for Citroën Racing in a fourth car.

Even if you don’t speak Finnish fluently, on-board camera footage of Mikko Hirvonen at Rally Sweden is nonetheless compelling viewing. Totally unflappable, Jarmo Lehtinen calls out the pace notes at a rate of knots, while his driver controls the DS3 WRC as it flies from one jump to the next… at speeds approaching 180kph!  In a few days time, fans of the World Rally Championship will be able to admire their idols on stages that sometimes look more like a bobsleigh track!

After winning here in 2010 and 2011, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team crew will be very determined to claim another victory in Karlstad. “Since we finished Monte-Carlo, I have been totally focussed on this rally,” confirmed Mikko. “Last year, it was only my second rally in the DS3 WRC and I was missing that little something you need to grab the win. A year later, I feel ready to secure my first win in 2013. Obviously, we’ll have to deal with the conditions, which can vary depending on how cold it gets and any snowfall. That can affect the wear of the tyres. The new Michelin X-Ice North tyres seem more hard-wearing on the frozen gravel, but we’ll only really be able to tell in the race!”

Winners of the opening round of the season, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena continue their partial racing programme with Rally Sweden. The only ‘non-Nordic’ crew to have won here, the nine-time World Champions would dearly love to repeat the feat. “I remember how surprised Yves Matton was when I suggested including this rally in my programme,” recalled Seb. “It is undoubtedly not one of the rallies where I have enjoyed the most success in recent years, but that’s exactly why I’m keen to compete here. To be honest, our win here in 2004 wasn’t a particularly great race. We won mainly because the other guys ran into problems. Since then I have been trying to understand and master these stages. So, I am here one final time to try and go out in style!”

Two weeks after finishing as runner-up in the Qatar Rally, the opening round of the Middle East Rally Championship, Khalid Al Qassimi and Scott Martin are set to radically change their surroundings as they head for the county of Värmland. Nominated to score points for the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRT, the Emirati driver will be taking part in his fourth Rally Sweden: “No, it’s not really a surface that comes naturally to me, but I have improved here every year, so much so that I finished in the points last time I competed in 2011. This will be my first rally with the team and the DS3 WRC, so I don’t want to set myself too high a target. It would be a great start if I could finish in the points.”

Third overall in Monte-Carlo, Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio will be the extra Citroën crew at this rally. Like all the drivers who do not come from Northern Europe, the Spaniard has become increasingly accustomed to the surface the more he has competed here. “Although I still think I can improve further on this surface, I was on the pace in 2010 when I finished on the podium,” recalled Dani. “My goal for this rally is very simply to produce the best possible result. The fact that I won’t be scoring points towards the Manufacturers’ Championship will help to take the pressure off me.”

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