Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team hope to add to their success on snow and ice when they contest the only pure winter event in the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Sweden, this week (15-18 February).
It was in Sweden where TGR-WRT scored their first victory – in only their second event – back in 2017 with Jari-Matti Latvala, now Team Principal, behind the wheel. In all, the team have won four times from six starts in Sweden and will target a strong result in round two of the 2024 season after beginning the year with a double podium at Rallye Monte-Carlo last month.
Two-time world champion Kalle Rovanperä will commence his 2024 WRC programme on Rally Sweden, where he previously claimed victory in 2022. He lines up alongside Elfyn Evans, who took his first win with the team in Sweden in 2020, and Takamoto Katsuta, who has also tasted success on the event in the past.
A fourth GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid will be driven by Lorenzo Bertelli as part of TGR-WRT’s customer programme. Sweden is one of the Italian driver’s favourite rallies; it’s also where he first competed with the team, one year ago.
Following the GR Yaris Rally2’s debut at Rallye Monte-Carlo, seven of the cars will compete in the WRC2 class in Sweden. Sami Pajari (Printsport) is joined on the entry list by Georg Linnamäe (RedGrey Team), Mikko Heikkilä (TGS), Roope Korhonen (Rautio Motorsport), and Jan Solans (Teo Martín Motorsport), together with the TGR WRC Challenge Program duo of Yuki Yamamoto and Hikaru Kogure.
Since 2022, Rally Sweden has been based in Umeå, the largest city in northern Sweden and a short trip across the Gulf of Bothnia from Finland where TGR-WRT are based. The event’s move north – it now takes place closer to the Arctic Circle – has helped ensure extreme winter conditions and also even faster roads. This is one the quickest rallies of the season, with drivers ‘leaning’ their cars on snow banks by the sides of the road to carry more speed through corners and using special studded tyres to gain extra grip.
As last year, the rally will begin with a short sprint stage in Umeå on Thursday evening. This will be repeated at the end of Friday following two loops of three stages: the Brattby and Floda tests are identical to last year, but much of Norrby is new. Saturday has a similar format with a trio of repeated tests beginning with the all-new Vännäs, followed by the familiar Sarsjöliden, while Bygdsiljum includes some of last year’s Botsmark stage. A double-length version of the Umeå stage rounds out the day and, as in 2023, will also be run as the rally-ending Power Stage on Sunday when it follows two passes of a revised Västervik test.
Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal): “We had a solid start to the season at Rallye Monte-Carlo and now we are looking forward to Rally Sweden, which is a little bit like a home rally for our team: it’s where we got our first victory back in 2017 and the winter conditions are something familiar to us. Last year it was a bit more difficult, so we have really tried to prepare well this year because we want to be back in the fight for the victory. Taking part in the Arctic Rally alongside our testing in Finland has helped us to be as ready as we can. Kalle starts his season in Sweden and can be strong on this kind of event, and his starting position should help him to fight at the front. Elfyn has also won in Sweden before and we’ve focused on making sure he can have the best performance possible in the conditions he’ll face nearer the front of the order. Taka can also be strong on snow and had very good speed last year, so I hope it can be a good event for all our drivers.”
Kalle Rovanperä (driver car 69): “It’s exciting to be starting our season with an event like Rally Sweden. I always enjoy driving on snow and it’s one of the best feelings you can have in a rally car. It’s been cool to get back in the car over the last week at the Arctic Rally and in our pre-event test. Sweden has been a good event for us in the past but last year we were not so strong, so this year we want to fight back. As it’s the only round on snow, it’s not easy to find the perfect car setup with only a few days of testing in those conditions. But I think we’ve found some useful things in our tests and we’ve been going in the right direction, so I’m looking forward to the rally.”
Elfyn Evans (driver car 33):“Driving on snow and ice makes Rally Sweden a very specific event. In the past I’ve had some good performances there, and we’ve been working to try and improve my feeling with the car from last year’s event. Our pre-event running in Finland has been useful to get some time on snow before Sweden: it’s given us the chance to try a few things and I think we have managed to make some good steps. The conditions can vary quite a lot during the rally, with gravel coming through on the second pass of stages, and that’s something key to get right. Starting second on the road with fast drivers behind will not be easy but we’ll do our best like always and try to get the most out of the weekend.”
Takamoto Katsuta (driver car 18)
“Rally Sweden is always an exciting rally and it’s one of my favourite events on the calendar. Driving on snow and ice is something I have really enjoyed since I started rallying in Europe with the TGR WRC Challenge Program. Last year, I had pretty good speed in Sweden so I hope we can perform well again and get a good result also. This event is always a big challenge and there will be some fast drivers including Kalle starting behind us on the road, so it will not be easy to fight for the top positions. But I will try to push hard and do the maximum that I can.”