Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team aim to continue their record of success on the snow and ice of Rally Sweden when round two of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship takes place this week (9-12 February).
Sweden was the scene of the team’s first victory, in 2017, when Jari-Matti Latvala – now Team Principal – claimed a shock win in TGR’s second WRC outing. Since then, the team have won three times in the last three Swedish events, including the maiden victory for the Yaris Rally1 Hybrid car in 2022, driven by Kalle Rovanperä.
That result kick-started Rovanperä’s run to his first drivers’ championship, and the Finn will arrive in Sweden effectively leading this year’s title race. Last month he completed a one-two finish for TGR-WRT on the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo behind Sébastien Ogier – who heads the standings but has not included Sweden in his part-season programme.
Takamoto Katsuta therefore steps up to be part of the main three-car line-up for the first time, alongside Rovanperä and Elfyn Evans – who won in Sweden in 2020. Having often rallied on snow and ice in Finland as part of his training through the TGR WRC Challenge Program, Japanese driver Katsuta also has a strong record in Sweden, taking a breakthrough WRC2 win there in 2018 and finishing fourth overall last year.
TGR-WRT will still have four cars in action in the top category in Sweden, as Italy’s Lorenzo Bertelli becomes the first customer driver to compete in the GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid.
Rally Sweden is the only true winter round on the calendar. Last year it moved to a new home in Umeå: the largest city in northern Sweden. As well as providing a better guarantee of the extreme conditions the rally is known for, the move also brought even quicker roads. Special studded tyres bite into the surface to provide impressive grip; helping make this one the fastest rallies of the year with drivers ‘leaning’ their cars on snow banks by the sides of the road to carry more speed through corners.
The rally will begin on Thursday evening with a short sprint stage in Umeå, which is run again on Friday following two loops of three stages: Brattby and Sarsjöliden to the west were driven on Saturday and Sunday respectively last year, while Botsmark to the north is new. Saturday’s repeated loop of three stages begins with two new tests: Norrby and Floda, which is the most northerly stage of the rally and also the longest at 17.6 miles. A double-length version of the Umeå stage rounds off the day, and also serves as the rally-ending Power Stage on Sunday following two passes of another new test, Västervik.
Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal): “Our result on Rallye Monte-Carlo was a fantastic start to the season and gives us a good feeling going to Rally Sweden. This is a rally that I think we all look forward to – and one I always wish I could be driving myself. I have some very good memories from Sweden and so do our team, including our first win together back in 2017. Last year we enjoyed the rally being in Umeå for the first time with some good snow coverage. Kalle was able to win from first on the road but his chances will again depend on the conditions and whether or not there’s a nice layer of ice. If there’s a lot of snow to sweep it could be more difficult for him, and it could be that Elfyn – who also really enjoys these conditions – could be in the better position to fight. I know Taka also loves the snow, and although it’s his first time being nominated to score points for the team, we will not be putting any extra pressure on him; we just want him to continue the work he did last year.”
Kalle Rovanperä (driver Car 69): “It was great to start the season well in Monte Carlo with a good feeling and with good points for the championship. We hope to continue the same way in Sweden and to enjoy the rally. We only have one event like this each year and it’s always cool to have the studded tyres on the car and push hard between the snow banks – it’s something special. We had a good result in Sweden last year and we will try to repeat it this time. It can be tricky to open the road on snow and it depends a lot on how the conditions will be. Our pre-event test went really well, with perfect conditions and a thick layer of ice on the road. Hopefully it’s like that for the rally too and we don’t suffer too much running first on Friday.”
Elfyn Evans (driver Car 33): “Overall, Rallye Monte-Carlo was a good start to the year even if our result was disappointing with the pace that I think we had. Now we head to Sweden and a completely different challenge. Even with the snow and ice, it’s still one of the fastest rallies on the calendar, especially since the base has moved a bit further north. I think the stages are even faster and we will have some new ones on this year’s route that we are yet to discover. It’s a rally where it’s almost impossible to have a perfect car all the time, because the grip you have can change a lot within one loop of stages, but we were able to work through various options in our test.”
Takamoto Katsuta (driver car 18): “I’m really excited for Rally Sweden. Driving on snow feels very familiar and comfortable for me and I really like these conditions. Being one of the team’s three nominated drivers will maybe bring a little bit more pressure than I’m used to but this position is where I have really wanted to be. I’m sure there will be challenging moments but I will try to manage them and bring good points for the team. I will just do my best and this is no different to before. In testing on snow, the feeling in the car has been incredibly good; I would say the team has made quite a big step since last year and hopefully this gives us more confidence in Sweden. Of course, the other teams are also improving and developing so we will need to be ‘full attack’!”