Thursday, February 08, 2007

A trip to the Swedish Rally, part 4 - Sunday

Thanks for staying with me as I tell the story of my trip to the Swedish Rally. We're up to Sunday, Leg 3 of the event.

Since the concept of sticking with what works seemed to do well for our dinner plans, we applied it to breakfast too, and took in another smorgasbord at our friendly local cafe. We had to be up even earlier than the previous day because the first stage we were going to was the first stage of the day, SS13, Sagen. To make matters worse, Sagen was located a significant distance further than Fredriksberg, albeit in the same direction.

The drive out to the stage was event-free and after a left-turn off the main road we found a parking space in the quaint little village of Sagen. The access road continued through the village, and it turned out that it was the end of the stage too. We walked up the stage, which ended with a very tight downhill hairpin, and found a spot up above the hairpin. The view was fantastic - cars came down the hill from the left, before braking hard in front of us for that final corner.

We were early enough this time to see all three course opening cars, with their flashing lights and wailing sirens. It helped build the excitement as the minutes passed. I spent the time preparing to do some rudimentary timing and scoring. Since this was the first stage of the day I could be pretty sure that it would start on time, and with the finish line visible from our vantage point I was planning on recording stage times.

As we chatted with a pair of Norwegians, I checked my watch: 8:35am, the departure time for the first car. Seven minutes later the first car arrived, right on schedule - Kristian Sohlberg in a Group A Mitsubishi Evo. We watched as he executed a textbook "Scandinavian Flick" around the hairpin before crossing the finish in 7:25.

As each car came through we enjoyed seeing the different lines through the corner, as well as checking out who was recording fast times. The first really quick time was put up by Seb Loeb, and as it turns out only Marcus Gronholm was able to better the young Frenchman.

We stayed at Sagen until about 30 cars had passed through, because we had a date with SS15, Hara. This gave us about two hours to drive all the way back to Hagfors, then about 20km north, before parking and walking to the stage. By now we knew how tricky it was to stay on schedule, so we made sure to not dawdle. We also chose to take a back road out of Hagfors, to avoid the potentially busy main road to Hara.

The access road to Hara was much smaller than at other stages, and the further in we went the more treacherous it became. At one point we came to a very steep downhill that begged the question "will we make it back up on the way out?" Only one way to find out....

Once we'd reached the end of the line of parked cars we began another long walk to the stage. We ended up at a crossroads - from the road we came in on, the one to the left and the one going forwards were the stage, whilst to right the road ran off into the forest. We walked up the stage, as the route ran uphill into a clearcut area. Once again we had a good vantage point, watching the cars take the 90 degree left-hander, before charging uphill past us and over the top of the hill through a medium right.

During our wait for this stage to start, it began to snow. This may not seem very surprising - we were in Sweden during winter after all, but it was the first time it had snowed on us during a stage. Visibility was reduced, which was a bit of a shame, but it did provide some great wintry atmosphere, as we stood amongst the pine saplings and bonfires.

When all was said and done at Hara, we had one more stage on our itinerary before we would bid the Swedish Rally "goodbye". From Hara it was about 15km south to the village of Sunnemo, where we turned onto a very small country road that would take us to the Hagfors forest stage. The drive was beautiful - no other traffic, and lots of breaks in the forest. Check out the pics on part one of this story - they're from this road. As expected we eventually got to the end of a line of parked cars, and started the walk. This time we faced the longest walk yet, and wondered exactly how far we'd gone when finally we saw a gathering of people next to some emergency vehicles, that indicated a marshall point on the stage. This was at a right-hand hairpin at the end of a very fast section with a couple of yumps. After the corner cars headed slightly uphill, but spectating opportunities up there seemed slim. Instead we headed back down the stage, away from all the marshalls before finding an incredible spot on the outside of a very fast left. In retrospect this was a pretty dangerous place to be, and every time a marshall came by we were made to move back about ten yards. Of course we always moved back to within a few feet of the road.

Once the stage started we discovered that this was the most dramatic viewing spot we'd had throughout the whole event. Cars came by flat in fifth and didn't start braking until after they'd passed us, before the yumps. Each car that passed counted us down to the end of the event, which made for a bittersweet experience. Still, it was a great way to finish our visit to the Swedish Rally, and after the long walk back to the car we headed straight for Stockholm, and a date with a British Airways flight the next morning.

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