Having secured a strong start at last month’s season opener, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team are keen to make an impression as they chase success on next week’s Rally Sweden.
Finding a new home in Umeå last year, the Swedish fixture ventured north in search of colder climes and the Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1s are set to be let loose in their gravel guise for the first time this year.
A traditional Rally Sweden can see temperatures fall as low as -20˚C with hard-packed snowbanks allowing crews to guide their cars around corners at speed, and incredible traction from Pirelli’s Sottozero Ice tyres which bite through the snow to capture grip on the hard ice below.
In recent years milder conditions have provided further challenges with loose snowbanks in place of compacted snow, and protruding gravel demanding expert tyre management as crews work to safeguard their tungsten-tipped studs across ever-changing conditions.
Claiming victory on the event in 2019 with a total of six stage wins across the weekend, Ott Tänak is no stranger when it comes to excelling on winter rallies; and he claimed his first of three Sweden podiums, as well as his very first stage win, while behind the wheel of Ford machinery on ice.
The Estonian is preparing for Rally Sweden by contesting this weekend’s Otepää Talveralli in his native Estonia. After a successful pre-event test in Östersund last week, Tänak intends to maximise his time in the Puma while experiencing a variety of conditions before shakedown commences on Thursday morning.
After a commendable start to the season, Pierre-Louis Loubet readies himself for a very different challenge in Sweden. With limited experience on snow and ice, the young Frenchman focused on gaining knowledge and experience during his pre-event test and will look to his teammate for guidance before negotiating the stages.
The FIA Junior World Rally Championship also kicks off its debut event in Sweden with nine M-Sport Poland-built Ford Fiesta Rally3s going head-to-head in the hands of rallying’s rising stars. Amongst the ranks is Grégoire Munster who develops his Ford portfolio after contesting Rallye Monte-Carlo with the Ford Fiesta Rally2 in the WRC2 category.
The 2022 Junior WRC Champion, Robert Virves, will also compete in Sweden as he claims his first of four prize-drives behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta Rally2. The young Estonian is making his WRC2 debut as part of the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team.
Richard Millener, Team Principal, said:
“As our only true winter rally, this event has always been a highlight. There’s nothing quite like a classic Rally Sweden with drivers leaning their cars on snowbanks at mind-blowing speeds; and even when the temperature hovers above zero we’re never short of action with tyre management becoming an essential skill.
“Nowadays the conditions can change overnight and there’s always an element of the unknown when going to most winter rallies; so we’ve tried to prepare for that with a range of different conditions during our pre-event test. We spent two days in Östersund which is along the same longitude as Umeå, and Ott will be competing in Estonia this weekend. Whatever the conditions we’re expecting a big difference between the first and second pass, so that experience in changing conditions should hold our crews in good stead.
“Ott made a really good start to the season in Monte-Carlo as he got to grips with the Puma. We’ve been working on a few things with him since then, and I hope we will see the results of that next week.
“This will be a completely new challenge for Pierre-Louis but I’m sure he’ll benefit from Ott’s expertise, and it’ll be great to get him some more time on a surface less familiar to him. He delivered some really strong performances on loose-surface events last year, so I hope he can use that to his advantage – even if Sweden is a bit colder than Greece and Sardinia!
Ott Tänak, said:
“This has been our first opportunity to try out the car on snow and ice. Some things seem to be there, and we are gradually growing in confidence. This is why it’s critical to do this rally in Estonia, to get some more experience across different conditions, and we’ll find out how far away we are from the right set-up.
“Personally, I feel much more confident on snow, so we’ll see how we compare to the other guys. If it’s icy it’s better to be out earlier on the road, and if its very snowy it’s the other way around. So, it really depends on the conditions, we’ll just have to see what the weather does. Either way we are ready for the action, we have no choice!”
Pierre-Louis Loubet, said:
“I’m very happy to be going to Sweden. This will be my second time there, but my first time on the new event in Umeå. I’m looking forward to the experience and aim to deliver a good, clean rally which will be the most important thing for me next weekend.
“Everything is still very new for myself and Nicolas, so it is important to gather as much experience and knowledge as possible and use that to build confidence ahead of the upcoming gravel events. Let’s try our best to deliver a good result and enjoy this new experience!”