The Citroëns found the going tough as WRC for 2011 began, while Ford enjoyed a renaissance. So what other big talking points came out of Sweden?
It was all change on Rally Sweden: out with the old two-litre turbocharged World Rally Cars and in with the leaner, meaner and greener 1.6 WRCs.
While horsepower remains the same, at about 300bhp, torque is reduced by a dramatic 50 per cent. So what are they like to drive?
“You have to be a bit more committed than you could get away with in the past,” grinned Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen. “But personally speaking, I really enjoy that.”
That wasn’t the only thing. All the cars could have still benefited from a bit more development.
'I’m just sweeping the road clean for everyone else' – Sébastien Loeb
“I don’t think we’re favourites here,” said Citroën team boss Olivier Quesnel before the start. “We would definitely have liked some more testing.”
In the end, though, it wasn’t reliability but the elements that scuppered Citroën. By virtue of his championship exploits, Sébastien Loeb started first on the road. By the time he blasted into the first stage, snow had been falling solidly for 24 hours.
“There’s absolutely nothing at all I can do; I’m just sweeping the road clean for everyone else like a giant snowplough,” said the frustrated seven-time World Champion. “At times it feels like I’m going backwards.”
By the end of day one, Loeb was ninth – a situation that was as “unusual as a sober Finn” as one member of the press corps put it.
It was no big surprise that Hirvonen, the winner in Sweden last year, eventually claimed the honours, but the sensation of the rally was young Norwegian Mads Ostberg, who led for most of the first two days.
'I can’t remember a rally that’s been this exciting for a very long time' – Jari-Matti Latvala
“I’m loving it!” said the 23-year-old, in his new Ford Fiesta WRC. “This is the best car I’ve ever driven. It’s never easy to drive these cars, but I’m really not pushing too hard.”
Given that he didn’t hit anything substantial over the three days, he was probably telling the truth. Jari-Matti Latvala eventually finished third on the first all-Ford podium for three years, but “every time I came round a corner, there seemed to be a snowbank with my name on it!” he reported. “I can’t remember a rally that’s been this exciting for a very long time.”
Loeb’s fellow Citroën Total World Rally team-mate Sébastien Ogier just missed out on a podium by 13.7 seconds, and he reckons he might have stood a chance of doing it had it not been for an unusual visibility problem. “The snow was hanging in the air a lot and, when it’s like that, it’s almost impossible to see properly,” he recounted. “It’s just like driving into a very white fog.”
Sweden may not have been the best event for the Citroën factory squad, but Red Bull’s flag was waving elsewhere with a brilliant win in the Super 2000 category from Patrik Sandell, who also finished an excellent 11th overall.
“I love my home rally and it was a lot of fun this year,” he said, co-driven for the first time by veteran navigator Staffan Parmander. “The most encouraging thing was how close our times were to the top World Rally Cars. I didn’t really expect that.”
In other news, there was a fine eighth place for Kimi Räikkönen – but not for the first time, the Iceman didn’t say much. And while Petter Solberg may have finished fifth overall, he won’t be allowed to drive in Sweden for the next two months, after being caught speeding on a road section. “I just got out of the car and told them: guilty as charged,” he confessed.