Sunday, February 04, 2007

A trip to the Swedish Rally, part 1 - Getting there

It was -15 degrees celsius, dark, and we were in Sweden in February waiting for a bus, after travelling for eighteen hours. Anyone who has ever questioned my passion for motorsport finally had nothing to say...

Every year around this time I think back to 2003, when I journeyed with my father to the WRC Swedish Rally. As the days tick down to this year's Swedish, I'll do my best to recount that remarkable trip...

United Airlines had been offering incredible deals on trans-Atlantic airfare, and I managed to pick up return flights to London for about $250 each. A quick hop from London to Stockholm for a paltry $70 and the decision was made: we'd be going to the Swedish Rally. However, a lack of spare vacation days meant that we were going to have to arrive at the rally on the Friday morning, making for a very tight schedule: we'd be leaving San Francisco on Wednesday and would arrive back on home soil a mere five days later.

The only difficulty, as is typical with last minute trips to major sporting events, was securing accomodation. After a frustating couple of days contacting hotels in both the host city of Karlstad (70km from the stages) and Hagfors, site of the service park and central to the stages, I was still empty handed. Luckily the local tourist board had a list of homestays, and we ended up with a relatively cheap house for the three nights we'd be in Hagfors. Interestingly, the method of using a local agent to find a homestay has worked well for us at Le Mans as well.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm very thorough when it comes to trip-planning. My biggest concern was how we'd be able to find our way around, a crucial detail when you're up against the clock trying to get from stage to stage on an efficiently-run rally. In the absence of any decent maps of central Sweden I opted to print out some maps from the internet, and was able to superimpose the rally route and access roads from smaller maps on the rally's website. Suitably prepped, we were ready to go.

Nothing can prepare you for the sheer cold of Scandinavia in winter, and as the doors of the airport terminal opened in Stockholm we knew that this was going to be unlike any motorsport event we'd ever been to. As the clock ticked by we wondered if the car rental reservation that I'd made was for real. Finally the shuttle arrived and we ended up at Avis' office. The first car that we were given, an Opel Corsa, had its parking brake frozen in place, so we were given a different car, a Ford Ka. Although the car was smaller, it proved to be fortuitous, as the Ka performed magnificently over the next four days.

I had made arrangements to spend the Thursday evening with a friend of a friend in Stockholm, but the confusing nature of the city built on countless islands meant that we never made it, and ended up instead at one of the numerous "Formula 1" motels that dot mainland Europe. After checking in to the tiny room, we braved the cold in order to walk to the pizza restaurant across the street. As you might expect, a cold beer would be high on the list of "must-haves" after such a lengthy journey, so it didn't take long for us to discover the harsh reality of Swedish alcohol taxation. Heinekins were $9 apiece! It turns out that although $9 is expensive, it's not prohibitive for either me or my father...

Friday came early, since we had to get to Hagfors by lunchtime, a not insignificant task given the snowy roads, distance and possibility of crowded roads. We took advantage of the delicious free breakfast then hit the road. Once beyond the extensive sprawl of Sweden's capital we finally got a look at the beautiful Swedish countryside. The rolling hills were covered in a deep layer of snow, apparently no longer a sure thing in the Central Swedish winter these days.

Shortly before the regional capital of Karlstad, we took a right turn onto a smaller country road. Almost immediately the landscape became hillier, and the snow started to get thicker on the ground. We started to see evidence of the same kind of roadside snowbanks that the WRC crews would be using to their advantage on the actual stages. Fifty kilometers later we turned right onto a main road which five minutes later brought us into the town of Hagfors, home of the Swedish Rally's service park - which is where we were headed first.....

1 comment:

Allcarphotos said...

Hey fellow bloggers,

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Opel is one of them. They’re not the most impressive brand name in the car manufacturer’s world, but they do come up with some nice models. Some of the more popular models include Opel Corsa, Opel Astra, Opel Signum, Opel Speedster, Opel Zafira, Opel Calibra, Opel Trixx, Opel Vectra.

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Enjoy your day!

Michael R.
Webmaster, All car photos