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FIA JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP STARTS WITH THE SNOW OF SWEDEN

Rally Sweden hosts the opening round of the 2018 FIA Junior World Rally Championship next week with 13 of the sport’s most exciting young talents all doing battle for the ultimate reward – a rally win and an early lead in the race for one of the biggest prizes in motorsport.

For the first time since 2007, the Junior crews will have to master the art of winter rallying. Freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall has all but guaranteed perfect conditions and all eager to learn – and showcase – the unique skills required for ice and snow.

As one of the fastest events on the calendar, the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta R2s will reach incredible speeds as the 364 steel studs on Pirelli’s Sottozero ICE tyres bite through the snow to capture grip on the hard ice below.

Opening their campaigns on home soil are Emil Bergkvist and Dennis Rådström – two young Swedes who know better than most how to tackle the snow-covered speed tests. Having contested the Swedish fixture on three previous occasions, Bergkvist is a past class victor while Rådström has local knowledge on side – hailing from the host town of Torsby.

Yet the pairing could face stiff competition from Ken Torn. Used to competing on the ice and snow of his homeland, Torn is the latest in a long line of Estonians keen to make an impact on the world stage and could well be the dark horse next week.

Speaking of dark horses, Tom Williams has been taking his preparations seriously. Spending the winter break at a rally school in Norway, he also sought advice from former Norwegian Rally Champion Anders Grøndal and contested the country’s Sigdalsrally where he secured a fine second place in class.

With the other competitors having limited experience of winter rallying, strategy may have to come into their game plan but no one can be discounted with the competition expected to be closer than ever.
Having contested Rallye Monte-Carlo last month, Jean-Baptiste Franceschi will be hoping that the experience holds him in good stead – drawing on the skills learnt from tackling the event’s challenging winter conditions.

Fellow Frenchman Theo Chalal will also be hoping that the wintry conditions of the Monegasque event play to his advantage – driving the stages as one of the much-valued Safety Crews last month.

Travelling all the way from New Zealand and Chile, David Holder and Eduardo Fernández will have to tackle the jet-lag as well as the cold, while Ireland’s Callum Devine will be looking to start 2018 in the same fashion as he ended 2017 – when he was crowned British Junior Rally Champion.

Having contested the Junior World Rally Championship last year, Terry Folb and Julius Tannert will be hoping that their experience holds him in good stead. While the two Italian crews, Lucas Bottarelli and Enrico Oldrati, will also be hoping for a strong start – drawing on the knowledge of their two experienced co-drivers.

Junior WRC Manager, Maciej Woda, said:

“We’re starting the season with a big challenge next week. We’ve not seen a snow rally in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship since 2007 and it looks as though the conditions will be fantastic this year.

“Reports from the region suggest a good layer of ice with plenty of snow banks – perfect conditions for our crews to learn the art of winter rallying. And with the Fiesta R2 and the performance and strength of Pirelli’s Sottozero ICE tyres, they’ll have everything they need to master the demanding conditions.

“For sure the Scandinavians will all be pushing for victory. For those with limited experience of winter rallying, strategy will really come into play and they’ll have to focus on securing as many points as possible before the championship turns to their more preferred surfaces.

“We’re expecting the championship to be extremely close-fought this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a surprise or two in Sweden. I’m certainly looking forward to it and to seeing who best masters the challenge.”

 

DRIVER COMMENTS

Emil Bergkvist said:

“It feels great to start the season at my home event and it looks as though the competition will be really strong this year. To get used to driving an R2 car again, I completed a test with the Fiesta on snow and it felt really good. I got a positive surprise when I got behind the wheel of this car.”

Luca Bottarelli said:

“I was able to get quite familiar with the Fiesta R2 in Krakow last month. There might not have been much snow on the road, but it was a good opportunity to get to grips with the car. My experience on icy roads is quite limited, so my goal is to show an improvement from stage to stage. It won’t be an easy start, but I’m confident that we can improve throughout the season.”

Theo Chalal said:

“Rally Sweden is unique in the championship and represents a real challenge for anyone not accustomed to winter rallying. The Nordic drivers will be fast here, so I am viewing it as an opportunity to gauge how quickly I can learn and progress. I am aware of the opportunity this championship presents, and I want to learn and discover as much as possible.

“I have tried to be methodical in my preparations this year and was able to take part in Rallye Monte-Carlo as a Safety Crew last month. It was a good chance to get a feel for the environment at this level, and also to feel some snow under my wheels! I received support from Stephane Sarrazin and Laurent Clutier to help refine my driving technique on winter roads which was really informative.”

Callum Devine said:

“We managed to get some good seat time with the Fiesta R2 in Krakow last month, but this will be my first time properly driving on snow. There’ll be an element of the unknown, but we plan to make the most of the event – getting though all of the stages and learning as much as we can. It will be a big challenge, but one that I am looking forward to.”

Emilio Fernández said:

“Snow is not a terrain that I know so we need to drive a clever rally next week – using the event to get good experience of the Fiesta R2 as well as the team we’ll be working with throughout the year.

"We aim to complete the full rally and gain as many points as we can ahead of the more familiar surfaces. In preparation, I’ve also done some simulator driving on snow – hopefully the virtual experience will look like the real one!”

Terry Folb said:

"Our ambitions for Rally Sweden are to be able to fight at the front. There are several Nordic drivers so the competition will be really strong and it’s an event that I need to discover. For the championship, a podium would be a good result.

“To be best prepared for the challenges ahead, I have completed some tests on snow and ice. I have also watched a lot of on-board footage to see how the top drivers tackle this surface."

Jean-Baptiste Franceschi said:

“It’s a dream come true to start this amazing event. Of course it won’t be easy and we will have a lot to discover about this surface and about the studded tyres, but I am really looking forward to it. I want to say a huge thanks to the French Federation for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to participate in this fabulous championship where it’s possible to win something really interesting.

“To prepare for this event, I competed at Rallye Monte-Carlo which was an awesome experience. I also had a test day in Poland where I discovered the car on gravel. There was no snow, but it was a really great experience and I’m really looking forward to starting this rally.”

David Holder said:

“We’re really excited about the challenge of tackling our very first snow rally next week. Naturally, we’ll have to take a more conservative approach to this one and be realistic in our expectations. There’ll be some strong competition, and a clean rally will be key to a successful finish.

“We made the journey from New Zealand last week so I can say that I am already used to the cold. After testing the Fiesta with the M-Sport team in Krakow, we headed to Norway for a small stint on an ice lake to get a feeling for what lies ahead. Our preparation has been good, but I know that there will be plenty to learn next week.”

Enrico Oldrati said:

“With no experience competing on snow, Rally Sweden will be a tough opener to the season. In Italy, we don’t have anything like this event but I have been trying to improve my knowledge about how to drive a two-wheel-drive car on snow.

“My plan for the rally is to improve with every stage and bring the Fiesta to the end without incident. This is a fantastic opportunity for me, and I want to thank my family for making it possible.”

Dennis Rådström said:

“Ever since I was a little kid I have dreamed of competing at Rally Sweden and this year the conditions are going to be really, really nice – it’s a dream come true! My aim is to thoroughly enjoy this opportunity – to have fun and to do my best on every stage.

“Having done a lot of testing, and two rallies here in Sweden, I’m feeling well prepared and hoping to challenge at the top of the field. Let’s see what we can do.”

Julis Tannert said:

“First of all, I’m happy to start my second season in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship and want to thank my partners for this opportunity. We recently had a test in Finland to get a feel for the studded tyres on snow and, during the winter break, I have been improving my fitness so as to be best prepared for the year ahead.

“Rally Sweden will be a new adventure for me. I’m sure that the conditions will be perfect next week and that the competition will be extremely strong, but I plan to use all of my experience from last year and hope to fight for the podium.”

Ken Torn said:

“My mission next week is to deliver a clean rally and a strong performance that will allow us to fight for the win. We’ve competed on this surface before, and we’ve just completed a good test on snow so I’m feeling well prepared and ready for the challenge.”

Tom Williams said:

“I honestly can’t wait to get the season started at Rally Sweden – the conditions look fantastic with meter high snow banks! I spent the winter break working at John Haughland’s winter rally school in Norway. It was a fantastic opportunity which meant I was able to learn a lot about how to drive on the ice and snow. I’m really looking forward to next week and hope to have a smooth rally with some good mileage under my belt.”

 

RALLY SWEDEN ENTRY LIST

Emil Bergkvist (SWE) / Ola Fløene (NOR)
Luca Bottarelli (ITA) / Manuel Fenoli (ITA)
Theo Chalal (FRA) / Jaques-Julien Renucci (FRA)
Callum Devine (IRL) / Keith Moriarty (IRL)
Emilio Fernández (CHI) / Joaquin Riquelme (CHI)
Terry Folb (FRA) / Christopher Guieu (FRA)
Jean-Baptiste Franceschi (FRA) / Romain Courbon (FRA)
David Holder (NZL) / Jason Ronald Farmer (NZL)
Enrico Oldrati (ITA) / Danilo Fappani (ITA)
Dennis Rådström (SWE) / Johan Johansson (SWE)
Julis Tannert (GER) / Jürgen Heigl (AUT)
Ken Torn (EST) / Kuldar Sikk (EST)
Tom Williams (GBR) / Phil Hall (GBR)