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9 Jun 2015

WRC Sweden 2015

WRC Sweden 2015


Text and Photos: Reinis Babrovskis

Just days away from the WRC Sardinia it is time to look back at the WRC Sweden 2015. What was WRC Sweden like? To summarise it shortly – it was a F#!?in’ party; a festival of speed, courage and balls; a celebration of everything that is motorsport. Was it easy – no; was it worth it– hell yes!
Surprisingly mild weather, beautiful scenery, record breaking jumps, slippery hairpins, icy roads, high snow banks, close fights, early drama and last minute victories, tears to those who lost it and smiles to those that made it; it was an unforgettable experience. More than 200,000 spectators on location and close to a billion viewers on TV and Internet followed the Rally Sweden in 2015.
Motor racing is a drug, an incurable addiction, equally craving for the driver or the spectator. Once you’re hooked, there is no cure. There are many sorts of “drugs” on offer for the petrol junkies – F1, NASCAR, WTCC; what’s mine? It has to be the World Rally Championship. Why? It takes racing to the most picturesque places on the planet – from the frozen whites of Sweden to the beautiful mountains of Argentina; it pushes the drivers to and beyond their limits – variable road surfaces, changing conditions, unpredictable weather and enormous mental and physical stress. Rules are simple – fastest man wins. This is the World Rally Championship driven by the world champions.
I am not a racing driver, I am a spectator: I don’t care about the results, the split times or the stage wins – they are just numbers to me. I love the WRC for the adventure that it is. Spectating a rally means being a part of it, it is hard work, trust me; whereas circuit racing is easy – arrive, sit down, have a drink and relax. Planning the journey, doing a recce in order to find the best vantage points, rushing from stage to stage, walking for miles - this is all an integral part of the rally spectating.
So why is this tough challenge so appealing? You get rewarded by the most spectacular racing in the world - graceful “dances” round the hairpins or the fearless flights over the jumps and above all the breath-taking scenery; it’s all there. You will certainly meet new friends, be well looked after by the locals and most importantly never ever be bored.
If I’ve sold you on a World Rally holiday now and you’ve never experienced the thrill of one before, the Rally Sweden is the place to go. Thousands of screaming, cheering fans will be in every corner of the stage; you will experience the best party atmosphere, drinks and food. Be warned - following the rally for four hard, exhausting and challenging days is not easy, but sure as hell it is damn worth it.

The Rally

Now for the facts – Rally Sweden is one of the toughest challenges out there for both the teams and drivers. The temperatures can easily drop well below the -20 mark making the job of the mechanics very challenging, while the tricky icy, snowy road conditions keep the drivers on their highest concentration levels. The Rally Sweden was first run in 1950 under the name “Rally to the Midnight Sun” (as it was held during the summer months); it became a winter rally in 1965. The rally has been dominated by the crazy Scandinavians until the machine, that is Sebastien Loeb, broke the record in 2004. The man/machine - Sebastien Ogier is the only other non-Scandinavian to win the challenging rally.
WRC Rally Sweden 2015 took place from 12th-15th of February, with the Rally HQ situated in Karlstad. 21 stages with the total length of 308km were spread across 4 days in the western part of Sweden with some of the stages heading into the neighbouring Norway. The rally included snow, ice, hairpins, jumps, crests, curves and the most spectacular place of the rally – the famous Colin’s Crest.

 The Cars

The WRC cars were pushed to their limits here. Since this was the only proper winter rally on the WRC Calendar the car engine, gearbox and suspension had to work at unforgiving weather conditions, so did the tires. The tires are specifically designed for Rally Sweden; fitted with roughly 380 tungsten-tipped steels studs to grip with the frozen road. Each stud measures at 20mm and weighs 4g. This is the only Rally where the crews also had to carry a mandatory accessory in the race car - a shovel, in case their car gets stuck in the snow bank.

The Specators

Unlike other WRC events where covering a lot of distance on car/foot is not an issue, 4-5 stages a day are possible, Sweden on the other hand is hard-core; the frozen, icy roads mean 2 stages a day is the realistic approach. Choosing the right stages and locations in WRC are crucial. Luckily we were honoured to have two private local guides – the experienced WRC fans Dick and Putte have more than 60 world rally events under their belts, so we were in good hands.
The action begun on Thursday with the shakedown, and ending with the traditional night time Karlstad’s trotting track super special.
Friday took us into Norway where thousands of loud Norwegian and Swedish fans brought the forest alive.
On Saturday the rally returned to the frozen forests of Hagfors and the world’s famous Colin’s Crest in Vargåsen. As a mark of respect for the late Colin McRae an award is made for the longest jump here. The previous record of 37 metres, shared by Ken Block and Marius Aasen was beated by Neuville. The Huyndai jumped 44 metres landing at 147km/h after the blind crest.
Final day of the rally returned to the same area for three tests, including the Power Stage in Värmullsåsen, before the Karlstad finish.
There were intense battles, spins and crashes from all drivers across the four days. An early spin in the rally from Latvala meant he was not in a position to fight for the win whilst Norveigian Mikkelsen was a few minutes away from his first ever win, before an unlucky spin just a few corners from the finish meant the victory was handed over to the French Seb Ogier.
Final Results:
1 S. Ogier
2 T. Neuville +6.4
3 A. Mikkelsen +39.8

More pictures from the event:

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