RALLY SWEDEN: The second event on the 2017 World Rally Championship calendar pits the drivers against snow, sleet and rain in Sweden. Image: AFP
Torsby, Sweden - Harsh winter conditions await the world rally championship when it swings into Sweden on Thursday (Feb 9) with snow banks and frozen roads assured as Scandinavian drivers seek to unfurl Sebastien Ogier's grip on the event.
World champion Ogier, now racing for Ford, won the last two editions with Volkswagen while Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala was the last driver from the region to win it in 2014.
Organisers have relocated the rally farther north to ensure daredevil packed-ice forest roads where competitors reach some of the highest speeds on the world circuit.
'Highlight of the season'
Ogier said: "Sweden is without doubt one of the highlights of the season. The speeds are just incredible on the ice and with the latest cars this year it's going to be even faster," added Ogier, who clinched the season curtain-raiser rally in January in Monte Carlo.
"Every second counts, you have to be extremely precise and the whole thing is going to be very closely contested."
Volkswagen has won every race in Sweden since 2013 but with the Germans having abandoned the world rally circuit the competition between Ford, Citroen, Toyota and Hyundai should be ferocious.
Toyota's Latvala has won in Sweden three times and was second at Monte Carlo three weeks ago.
"Of course, this is a very fast rally, but we have found some high-speed roads for testing so we hope that we are quite well prepared," the Finn's team principal Tommi Makinen said, revealing the team had been testing throughout December.
18 special stages
With the new cars larger, lighter and much more powerful this season, few drivers are courageous enough to target victory on a course where local competitors delight in using snowbanks to negotiate treacherous corners at top speed.
Ogier said: "If we can secure another podium result it would be a fantastic start. We've not yet seen everyone's true potential in the new cars."
Tyres at the Sweden rally are fitted with tungsten studs for grip on the ice-covered roads upon which the event thrives.
There are 18 special stages of 331.74km and a full total route of 1415.18km, much of it crossing into neighbouring Norway and more than half of which has never before been raced.
The rally gets under way Thursday with a nightime super-special contested at a horse-trotting track.
A highlight on Saturday is a special prize for the longest jump at Colin's Ridge, named in honour of the late Colin McRae, and where Eyvind Brynildsen set an astonishing new record in 2016 with a 45 metre leap.
Watch: WRC - Rally Sweden 2017: History Impressions