One of the most slippery events of the World Rally Championship calendar and the only one considered a true winter rally, has never witnessed a non- Scandinavian driver take the winner's cup in all its 50 year history.

So the Skoda Motorsport World Rally Team is fortunate to be competing at the 51st annual Rally of Sweden with an exceptionally strong driver line up from this region, with two Swedish drivers Kenneth Eriksson and Stig Blomqvist joined by the young Finn Toni Gardemeister.

The Swedish Rally is one of the fastest events of the year, with speeds often exceeding 200 kph, but what also sets it apart is of course the snow, with all the cars driving on studded skinny snow tyres. To be fast on the notoriously difficult snow covered special stages requires not only bravery behind the steering wheel but extensive local knowledge and plenty of experience with this special surface. Drivers who excel at this rally are well versed in the 'art' of leaning the rally car against the snow banks.

Skoda Motorsport has exceeded its quota of excellent snow drivers - the current line up has a record of winning this rally eight times in the past.

Kenneth Eriksson, 45, the 1986 group A World Champion, won the Swedish rally in 1991, 1995 and 1997. After successful testing with the Octavia WRC for this event he has big expectations.

"I have always liked this rally," he said, "This year it will definitely be again a great challenge for me. The Octavia WRC is a well balanced rally car for this kind of rally and I have learned a lot about how it handles at the last rally in Monte Carlo. Since I am positive that the stages on snow should suit both me and the car, I feel that our performance should be high."

26-year old Toni Gardemeister, who finished in the top ten in Monte Carlo, is also in a positive frame of mind. Last year in Sweden he missed the podium just by one place.

"Snow is definitely my favorite surface and I believe that for the Octavia WRC it will be also better than the dry tarmac in Monte," he said, "So, if we were in the top ten there, I think it is realistic to try to fight for the top six in Sweden.

"Of course, the result in a winter rally is even more a matter of luck than in other events. If you lean the car against a snow bank too hard you easily may break into it. Loosing those few vital minutes when you have to get the car out then can make all your hard work in vain."

Behind the wheel of the third Octavia WRC with number 17 will be legendary Swede Stig Blomqvist, co driven by Venezuelan Ana Goni.

For the five times Swedish rally winner and 1984 World Champion, the 51st Swedish rally is not only his home event, it is also one of his favourite events. It will be his first rally in 2002 in his seven event programme with the works Skoda Octavia WRC.

"The Swedish rally has always been a very special event for me," the veteran admitted, "I am really very happy that this year I can do the job here in the Octavia WRC. My feelings have been very positive since the testing and I think the Octavia WRC can be really competitive. I will try my best to make it so."

Skoda Team principal Pavel Janeba is also in a positive mood ahead of the chilliest event of the season.

"All three of our drivers are of Scandinavian origin so that is a definite advantage," he said, "But also, for this rally, Kenneth and Toni will have had more experience with the Octavia WRC, which was still a new car for them in Monte.

"I also have to admit that the snow covered stages should suit our car better than those of dry asphalt in the previous event. Add to all that the appearance of Stig, who is quite capable of showing some surprises of his own and I am very positive about the performance our team can show in Sweden."

Roman Kresta, with co-driver Jan Tomanek, will recce in Sweden from Monday to Wednesday while, during the rally, they will be the gravel crew for Stig Blomqvist. Their next appearance in an event will be in Rally Corsica.