Rally Sweden: Saabs, Super Swedes and Sideways action
Unique among world rally championship events, Rally Sweden offers the only chance for the world’s top drivers to show off their extraordinary talents entirely on snow and ice. Threading powerful rally cars along frozen forest tracks that you’d struggle to walk on is the preserve of the very best. In fact, any of the great champions would admit that a Rally Sweden victory is a vital inclusion on their CV.
First run in 1950 – and known as the ‘Rally to the Midnight Sun’ – Sweden’s international event is now part of the fabric of the WRC, appearing as the second round of the series’ inaugural season in 1973. Almost forty years on, it’s still there – and still as much a test of talent and bravery for rallying’s elite.
With a long history in rallying it’s no surprise that Sweden has produced a bumper crop of top drivers. In fact, Sweden ranks third in the all-time list of winning nations with 10 drivers. Only France (18) and Finland (14) have produced more world-championship event winners. Most famous among the 10 Swedes are world champions and motorsport household names Bjorn Waldegaard and Stig Blomqvist.
Waldegaard won 16 WRC events and was crowned inaugural drivers’ world champion in 1979. His first win came on home soil – or should that be snow? – in 1975 at the wheel of the iconic Lancia Stratos and he was still winning 15 years later.
Blomqvist won that first world-championship-qualifying Swedish Rally in 1973 in the giant-killing, two-stroke Saab 96 and scored 10 more wins en route to the world title in the awesome Audi Quattro in 1984.
The eight other successful Swedes on the WRC scoreboard are Ove Andersson (one win), Ingvar Carlsson (two), Per Eklund (one), Mikael Ericsson (two), Kenneth Eriksson (six), Mats Jonsson (two), Harry Kallstrom (one) and Anders Kullang (one).
Only one Swedish manufacturer has racked up a victory in the WRC since 1973. Recent stories surrounding Saab and its bankruptcy won’t have resonated well with fans of the quirky Trollhattan manufacturer that took four Swedish Rally wins in the 1970s.
The lightweight, two-stroke 96V4 – an updated, four-pot version of the earlier three-cylinder machine – broke Saab’s WRC victory duck with incomparable local hero Blomqvist ‘at home’ in ’73. The same configuration also gave Eklund his only WRC win, again in Sweden, in ’76.
The replacement for the 96, the 99, continued Saab’s winning streak in ’77, with Blomqvist taking a six-minute victory – his fourth in his home rally. The original Stig made it five two years later with the turbocharged 99. His win marked the first for a forced-induction engine in WRC history.