Neuville poised for winter showdown at Rally Sweden

thierry neuville, rally sweden 2023

Thierry Neuville is bracing himself for the ultimate winter challenge as he starts Rally Sweden (15 – 18 February), round two of the season, as the FIA World Rally Championship leader.

As Rally Sweden (15 – 18 February), the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship, looms ahead, Thierry Neuville finds himself at the forefront as the current championship leader.

Neuville’s commanding performance at Rallye Monte-Carlo last month elevated him to the top spot. However, the Belgian’s early success might pose challenges as Rally Sweden unfolds. Situated in the north of the country and headquartered in Umeå, the event promises ideal conditions for an electrifying winter rally, albeit presenting potential hurdles for Neuville.

Recent snowfall in the region means that Neuville, starting first in the running order during Friday’s initial leg, could find himself tasked with clearing the path for competitors behind him, effectively turning his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 into a makeshift snowplough.

Anticipating the challenging conditions, Neuville remarked, “We are expecting a lot of snow and very cold temperatures in Sweden. While manageable last year, previous experiences have been more difficult. Consequently, we will need precise handling and responsiveness from the car to navigate the corners effectively.”

Ironically, despite roads so icy that they are treacherous to stand on, Rally Sweden is renowned as one of the fastest rounds of the season. Competitors rely on tungsten-tipped steel-studded Pirelli tires to grip the ice, while leveraging snowbanks for added stability through corners.

Ott Tänak, last year’s champion with M-Sport Ford, enjoys a more favorable starting position, beginning fourth. He joins Finnish driver Esapekka Lappi, rounding out a three-car lineup for Hyundai Motorsport.

Toyota Gazoo Racing, aiming to improve its winter rally performance after struggles in Umeå last season, enters Elfyn Evans, Takamoto Katsuta, and Finnish sensation Kalle Rovanperä, returning after consecutive titles in 2022 and 2023.

M-Sport Ford’s Puma Rally1 entries feature Adrien Fourmaux and Grégoire Munster, spearheading the 300-kilometer challenge that spans from Thursday evening to Sunday. Notably, stages three and six have been renamed #42 Brattby in honor of the late Craig Breen, who set fastest times aboard his #42 Hyundai i20 N in 2023.

Rally Sweden also marks the commencement of the FIA Junior WRC, boasting a record-breaking 19 crews competing in identical Ford Fiesta Rally3 cars provided by M-Sport Poland.