Volkswagen Motorsport and Sebastien Ogier will have a unique opportunity to crush one particularly stubborn record this week in Sweden. Should Sebastien and co-driver Julien Ingrassia win this year, they will become first non-Scandinavian crew with two consecutive wins in this event. Or should we say the only non-Scandinavian crew with two wins in Sweden, at all. Team and crews performed well in Monte Carlo and of course Sebastien is once again the most popular choice for the victory number two of the season. However, this year Rally Sweden could be a bit more challenging – there are stages with very thin to almost non existent layer of snow, which means gravel, which means studs will die in thousands, making tyre choices very difficult and also very important.
But, the nature of this sport dictates constant changes and it’s silly to think that teams and crews are not prepared. For Volkswagen Motorsport, math is quite simple. They have two former Rally Sweden winners within their ranks with another former champion ready to set some records straight. It’s going to be business as usual for the German squad in Sweden and personally I believe at least one Volkswagen will make it to podium, and will also take the top step. Unless, of course, rally happens and all our predictions and projections become useless and purely chance based once again.
Do you think Jari-Matti Latvala can add another victory in Sweden to his tally or are you more inclined to think Sebastien Ogier is about to rewrite history this week?
Official Volkswagen Motorsport preview follows below. It’s a lengthy one, but sheesh that’s a LOT of information.
Back at the scene of the emotional first triumph: Volkswagen lines up at the Rally Sweden brimming with confidence and fully motivated to continue its run of success. From 05 to 09 February, Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), and Andreas Mikkelsen/Mikko Markkula (N/FIN) will take on classic special stages like “Fredriksberg” and “Rämmen”, as well as tacking the iconic “Colin’s Crest” jump. Sideways over ice and snow and through dense forests at an average speed of 110 km/h – you only get that at the Rally Sweden, the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Not only does Volkswagen arrive with its three Polo R WRCs in Karlstad as defending champion in the Driver, Co-Driver and Manufacturer competitions, but also as the leader in all three categories in the WRC.
“Icy temperatures of ten, even 20 degrees below freezing – and yet everyone here at Volkswagen still gets a warm feeling in their heart when we think about Sweden,” said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. “This is where we won our first WRC rally with the Polo, which came as a complete shock to us all back then. You never forget emotional moments like those. The fact that we start the rally here this year as World Championship leaders and defending champions means we are the team to beat right from the word go, but it also provides our drivers, co-drivers, engineers and mechanics with twice the motivation. The Rally Sweden is very special, as it is the only rally on the WRC calendar held entirely on ice and snow. There is just one option when it comes to tyre selection, so tactics do not come into it. Right from the start it is all about one thing: full throttle. We are really looking forward to it.”
Promising signs for Ogier, Latvala and Mikkelsen: happy stomping ground for the Volkswagen boys
He is the only non-Nordic driver to win both the Rally Sweden and the Rally Finland in one season: Sébastien Ogier. And the other two drivers in Volkswagen’s flying trio are indeed Norsemen: Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen. From a statistic point of view, this is the perfect combination going into the Rally Sweden. When Ogier won the event in Sweden in 2013, he became only the second central European to do so – following in the footsteps of nine-time World Champion Sébastien Loeb. That makes Ogier the only current WRC driver from outside of Northern Europe to have won here in the past. The statistics also speak in favour of a success for Latvala: the Finn won the rally around the Karlstad region in 2008 and 2012. And Mikkelsen, at the wheel of the third Polo R WRC, also feels right at home in Sweden. In 2008, he caught the eye with an excellent fifth place overall in a privately run Ford. In 2012, whilst driving for Volkswagen, he finished runner-up in the S2000. Only a certain Sébastien Ogier was quicker back then. The Rally Sweden is also something of a home race for Mikkelsen – the second round of the 2014 WRC twice takes a detour into his native Norway. The “Torsby” special stage is held over the border, ending twice in the spectacular ski stadium in the town of the same name.
Plenty of snow and ice, a bit of Norway, and Colin’s Crest
A princely opening followed by a real “elk test”: Scandinavian anomalies await last year’s winners Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia and their team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila and Andreas Mikkelsen/Mikko Markkula when they line up at the Rally Sweden – the second round of the 2014 season, after last month’s Rally Monte Carlo. The Rally Sweden, with its headquarters in Karlstad and Service Park about 85 kilometres away in Hagfors, takes the competitors on a 1,583.33-kilometre route, with 323.54 kilometres against the clock spread out over 24 special stages.
This year’s Rally Sweden opens on Wednesday evening with a spectator stage, which features head-to-head duels between two cars on Karlstad’s horse racing track. One iconic spot, and a crowd-puller year after year, is the unofficial jump-off at “Colin’s Crest” – named after former World Champion Colin McRae. The crew that jumps the furthest in their World Rally Car on Saturday is honoured with the “Colin’s Crest Award”. The winner will be crowned in Karlstad on Saturday evening, following the afternoon’s closing Power Stage in Värmullsåsen.
The World Rally Championship only throws up a rally that is contested solely on ice and snow once every twelve months. It is also one of the fastest of the season. Only at the asphalt rallies and in Finland do the competitors achieve higher average speeds. The walls of snow at the side of the special stages are both a blessing and a curse. They frequently prevent more serious crashes when drivers make mistakes, but their frosty rigidity can also bring a rally to a premature end.
The Volkswagen drivers are armed with a special tool, just in case – a snow shovel. The handy spade in the boot of the 315-hp World Rally Car from Wolfsburg was used during the manufacturer’s three “Dakar” victories in the Race Touareg 2 and 3 from 2009 to 2011.
Fond memories: Sweden – where the WRC dream came true
Although it may only have been on the list of things to do in the Polo R WRC’s second season in the World Rally Championship, the first victory at a WRC rally came as soon as its second competitive outing. At 14:43 and 54 seconds on 10th February 2013, the Volkswagen service in Hagfors, Sweden, was transformed into a seething mass of frenzied celebrations – Volkswagen had just claimed its first WRC victory with the Polo, defeating both the greatest rally driver and the most successful rally team of all time – Sébastien Loeb and Citroën – in the process. Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia were worthy winners, producing a historic display on many levels. The tables have turned for Volkswagen in 2014: rather than shocking the favourites, the team from Wolfsburg now arrives in Northern Europe as the hot favourite. Living up to this billing promises to be a real test for Volkswagen’s World Championship winning team – particularly given the desire for success among its rivals at Citroën, Ford and Hyundai.
Quotes ahead of the Rally Sweden
Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1
“The Rally Sweden is one of my favourite rallies on the calendar. Last year, we claimed the first win for Volkswagen here, following a great duel with Sébastien Loeb. That was probably the best rally of my career so far. Like Loeb, we pushed ourselves to the very limit the entire time, and had to give 100 per cent every minute. It paid off in the end though, as we emerged from that extreme challenge victorious. The roles are reversed somewhat in 2014. We are now the team that everyone wants to beat. Scandinavians are traditionally hard to beat here. ‘Southern Europeans’ have only triumphed here twice in the past. As such, I will certainly have one eye on Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Østberg at Citroën, but above all I will be watching out for my two team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen. It will definitely not be easy, but I would love to win here again.”
Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2
“I am hugely looking forward to Sweden, the snow and the fast straights. Last year I was still just getting used to the Polo R WRC and we did not have the perfect set-up for the car. This year we know the car really well and I feel right at home behind the wheel. Unlike the last two years, I am hardly under any pressure this time around, and travel to Sweden totally relaxed, having already put myself in a good position with fifth place at the ‘Monte’. If you are able to enjoy a rally, then you are far more likely to succeed. I have my sights set on at least a podium. Not a lot has changed at the Rally Sweden this year. However, there is one change compared to last year’s event: the ‘Hara’ special stage on Saturday. It is a short, quick special stage, which last featured on the itinerary back in 2007 – a fantastic route.”
Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9
“I am looking to improve in 2014, and to make it onto the podium now and then. For me, the Rally Sweden is a very important rally every year, as I feel right at home there. I also hope that the second year will be easier. I am now able to continue working with my guys from last year, which allows us to improve our work. Driving on ice and snow is something that comes naturally to me, as I grew up with it. I hope we will have plenty of snow this year. The Rally Sweden’s little detour into my native Norway is obviously rather special for me. Maybe a few of my fellow Norwegians will have their fingers crossed for me on ‘Torsby’. Whatever happens, I do not need to worry about a lack of support at the Rally Sweden. Here’s hoping for a big result.”
News from the Volkswagen team
+++ Another landmark reached: Volkswagen Motorsport is delighted to have passed the two million fan mark on the Facebook social media channel. Shortly before the Rally Sweden, around 2.2 million users had ‘liked’ the manufacturer’s Facebook page. Having languished at around a quarter of a million until roughly a year ago, the number of interactive users on this channel has soared in the past twelve months, ensuring there is always plenty to chat about. Go to www.facebook.com/volkswagenmotorsport to find out more. +++
+++ Stars on ice: To mark the launch of the new, 300-hp Golf R, a number of stars from the worlds of sport, music and entertainment took part in a driver training course under extreme conditions, which left them in no doubt regarding the winter qualities of the new car. Among those to take their place behind the wheel at the event, which took place between the Rally Monte Carlo and the Rally Sweden, were Karl-Heinz Riedle, Sven Hannawald, Max von Thun, Till Lindemann and Sophia Thomalla. Also on hand to offer valuable advice was Volkswagen works driver Sébastien Ogier. The guests were given the opportunity to test the most powerful production Golf of all time in the heart of Lapland, about 900 km north of Stockholm. The celebrities put the Golf R to the test under extraordinary driving conditions during the international media launch in the small town of Arvidsjaur, which also serves as the destination for winter events on the Volkswagen Driving Experience. +++
The number for the Rally Sweden: 380
Seven millimetres long, made of tungsten, screwed into place 380 times per tyre: the “Sweden spikes”. This special Michelin Alpin model is used only once per year in the World Rally Championship. The 380 spikes on each tyre dig into the frozen surface on the special stages, thus providing greater traction than on gravel rallies. But beware: if the gravel starts to appear through the snow, there is a risk that the spikes will break off, thus ruining the perfect grip.