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.

Neuville soared to the top spot at Rallye Monte-Carlo last month. However, the Belgian‘s dominance at the season-opener may prove a double-edged sword this week. Nestled in the north of the country and based out of Umeå, conditions are near-perfect for an exhilarating winter rally, though not necessarily ideal for Neuville.

Thierry Neuville (BEL) and Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL) Of team HYUNDAI SHELL MOBIS WORLD RALLY TEAM perform during World Rally Championship Sweden in Umea, Sweden on February 11, 2023 Photo By Jaanus Ree for Red Bull Content Pool

Snowfall leading up to the event means that starting first in the running order during Friday’s opening leg could force Neuville’s Hyundai i20 N Rally1 to act as a snowplough, clearing the lines and enhancing grip for the following drivers.

“We are expecting a lot of snow and very cold temperatures in Sweden. This was something that was manageable last year, but has been a bit more difficult previously. Because of this, we will need a lot of precision and reactivity from the car to be able to throw it from one corner to the other and maximise effectiveness.”

Neuville explained

Ironically, roads deemed difficult to even stand on will set the stage for one of the fastest rounds of the season. Competitors rely on tungsten-tipped steel-studded Pirelli tyres to bite into the ice, providing crucial grip. Additionally, they ‘lean’ on the snowbanks lining the stages for added stability through corners.

Elfyn Evans (GBR) and Scott Martin (GBR) Of team TOYOTA GAZOO RACING WRT perform during World Rally Championship Sweden in Umea, Sweden on February 10, 2023 Photo By Jaanus Ree for Red Bull Content Pool

Ott Tänak, last year’s victor with M-Sport Ford, enjoys a more favourable starting position of fourth. He, along with Finnish driver Esapekka Lappi, rounds out a three-strong line-up of freshly liveried Hyundai Motorsport cars.

Toyota Gazoo Racing is aiming to improve its winter rally performance after struggling to match Hyundai and M-Sport Ford in Umeå last season. Elfyn Evans leads a trio of GR Yaris Rally1 cars into the event, accompanied by Takamoto Katsuta and Finnish prodigy Kalle Rovanperä, who returns to action for the first time this year after clinching back-to-back titles in 2022 and 2023.

Esapekka Lappi (FIN) and Janne Ferm (FIN) Of HYUNDAI SHELL MOBIS WORLD RALLY TEAM perform during World Rally Championship Sweden in Umea, Sweden on February 12, 2023 Photo By Jaanus Ree for Red Bull Content Pool

Adrien Fourmaux and Grégoire Munster headline M-Sport Ford‘s Puma Rally1 entries for the 300-kilometre fixture, which kicks off on Thursday evening and concludes on Sunday. Special stages three and six have been renamed #42 Brattby in memory of the late Craig Breen, who set the fastest times on both runs aboard his #42 Hyundai i20 N in 2023.

Kurhula David Ngobeni

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