What can possibly be more challenging than racing through a typical rally course, you might ask? Drop a gazillion tons of snow and ice on the course, and you would have the conditions for an epic winter rally showdown.
This is exactly what the Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team is gearing up for, as all eyes are set on Rally Sweden this February 25 to 27—the only true winter leg of the FIA World Rally Championship season. For 2022, a new stage has been revealed for the said event in Umeå, the largest city in northern Sweden. The Scandinavian city is expected to have more extreme winter conditions than in previous locations given its proximity to the Arctic Circle. For us rally spectators, this sounds exciting.
The team hopes to build on its performance in last month’s Rallye Monte Carlo, which kicked off a new era for the GR Yaris Rally1 hybrid racer. On its maiden race, the Rally1 proved to be a quick and dependable machine. However, it was denied victory at the penultimate stage where veteran rally champ Sebastien Loeb eventually took the top slot followed by the team’s Sébastien Ogier.
Esapekka Lappi is slated to make his first start in the team’s colors since 2018 (since Ogier’s program of selected rallies does not include Sweden). On another note, Kalle Rovanperä, who dominated the Rallye Monte Carlo Power Stage finishing fourth overall, will open the road in this weekend’s leg as the highest-placed driver on the team. Despite a costly mistake in Rallye Monte Carlo, Elfyn Evans hopes to repeat his winning performance when he bagged his first victory in the country two years ago. Teammate Takamoto Katsuta will pilot an additional vehicle as he has done in previous rounds of the season.
The stages will be totally new to the WRC, and the squad has been preparing in recent weeks with two days of testing (one in Finland and the other in Sweden) on snow and ice for every driver. Cars are set up in loose-surface specifications and fitted with special studded tires that deliver increased grip on roads lined with snowbanks, helping drivers power out of corners faster.
After a shakedown on Thursday, the rally will kick off the next morning in the north of Umeå with a loop of three stages. This includes Kamsjön, the longest stage of the rally stretching 28km. All three stages will be repeated in the afternoon with a short sprint in Umeå to cap off the day.
On Saturday, a longer version of the Umeå stage will take place and be run twice, including two other tests on the western side of the city. For Sunday’s final leg, a pair of stages will be run twice on the northwest side. This leg is considered the fastest round of the series, and its route will cover 1,223km.
Team principal Jari-Matti Latvala said: “Even though luck was not on our side at Rallye Monte Carlo, we could see the reliability and the speed of the GR Yaris Rally1, and that gives us a lot of encouragement going to Sweden.”