Two weeks on from Ireland, the World Rally Championship now heads to Norway for one of the most spectacular events on the calendar.

Rally Norway is the only true snow rally of the season - and like the last event it has only counted towards the WRC on one previous occasion.

Based mainly in and around the city of Hamar, the service park is housed inside the 'The Viking Ship' Olympic Hall.

Competitors will tackle around 375km of competitive stages, kicking off with a Super Special Stage in the middle of the capital city of Norway, Oslo, on Thursday evening as part of the Ceremonial Start proceedings.

The event will then move north and east of Hamar, with a remote service in Kongsvinger on Friday, and take in stages around Lillehammer that feature the arenas used at the Winter Olympics as a backdrop.

Special notes:

Conditions are reported to be perfect for a true winter rally in the Kongsvinger and Lillehammer areas where the event's speed tests are based.

The loose-surface tracks that host this second round of the 12-event series are covered with a thick layer of snow and ice and huge snow banks line the roads. With temperatures forecast to dip to -8?C, there is no reason for that to change.

Despite the harsh environment of the frozen Norwegian countryside though, drivers will find incredible grip in the snow and ice due to the effect of the tungsten-tipped studs protruding from Pirelli's tyres fitted to their cars. The studs bite through the snow into the icy surface beneath to offer grip almost equivalent to driving on gravel, and drivers 'lean' their cars into the snow banks to guide them round corners at maximum speed.

However, the skinny tyres usually seen on the ice-bound roads have been replaced for 2009. This will enable teams to use the standard 15-inch wheel rims that are utilised on all other loose surface rounds of the championship. The tread blocks are spread slightly wider as a result.

FIA World Rally Championship news:

Probably one of the biggest developments since Rally Ireland has been the launch of the 'Petter Solberg World Rally Team', which took place on Friday last week. 'Hollywood' now plans to take in all the events this season, beginning this weekend in Norway, when he will make his debut in a Citroen Xsara WRC.

News from the Manufacturers' teams:

Citroen Total WRT:

[Sebastien Loeb, car #1 and Daniel Sordo, car #2]

Sebastien Loeb:

"Our most recent outings on snow and ice didn't go all that well for us. Jari-Matti Latvala won in Sweden last year, and victory in Norway in 2007 went to Mikko Hirvonen. Ford should be more at home in Norway and will be extremely keen to profit from this rally to make up for lost ground. I don't know yet whether I will be able to stand in their way, but it's still a very stimulating challenge. I do enjoy this sort of event and I have very fond memories of my win in Sweden in 2004, so perhaps adding another victory to my record in Norway isn't entirely out of the question."

Dani Sordo:

"I've put my modest performance in [Norway in] 2007 behind me and, anyway, so much has changed since then. I have more experience, considerable work has gone into the car and our recent testing has also helped boost my confidence. I'm not saying that snow has become my favourite type of surface, but I am extremely fired up. I want to play my part in scoring another top result for Citroen following our recent 1-2 success in Ireland."

BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT:

[Mikko Hirvonen, car #3 and Jari-Matti Latvala, car #4]

Mikko Hirvonen:

"I scored solid points on the first round in Ireland earlier this month and now I really want to get down to business on a rally and in conditions that I enjoy. In 2007 the stages were enjoyable, but at the same time they were extremely difficult. I recall one stage that I drove in a blizzard and that was the first occasion in which I had encountered conditions like that. Ireland was a difficult start to the year because of heavy rain and I'm sure I'll feel more comfortable in Norway's snow - conditions in which we know the Focus excels."

Jari-Matti Latvala:

"A proper winter rally is great fun. The nature of the surface means a driver can be a lot more aggressive. The car spends more time sideways on snow because it helps to turn into bends. Taking straight lines and relying on traction, as I do on gravel, doesn't work in snow because there isn't as much. So I must trust the tyres, which offer good grip, and use the snow banks to carry more speed and guide me round."

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally team:

[Henning Solberg, car #5 and Urmo Aava, car #6 and Matthew Wilson, car #16]

Henning Solberg:

"This is the event I have been looking forward to for quite a while now. We had a really good run in Ireland and I have taken a lot of confidence from that so hopefully we will be able to come away with a good result on my home event; top-three would be great. Everyone is talking about the big battle with Petter but I'm not worrying about him, I just want to go as fast as I can for as long as I can. I know the stages reasonably well, they are in really good shape, and I think this will be a great rally; really exciting for all the Norwegian fans and a great chance to show Expert and Stobart what I can do."

Urmo Aava:

"We have had a decent start to the season and I'm really looking forward to Norway. I have competed there before and enjoyed the stages and I hear they are in great condition. We have a test before the recce so that will definitely help get a good feeling with the new snow tyres and hopefully help my confidence going into this event. The speeds will be high so it will be important to get a good recce and hopefully not make any silly mistakes during the rally this time."

Matthew Wilson:

"I really enjoy snow rallies, they are a unique experience, and I can't wait to start in Norway. I've seen some photos of the stages and they look to be in fantastic condition. The only unknown factor will be the new tyres, but we've heard good reports from previous tests and I will get a chance to try them when we have our own test. We started well in Ireland and now the emphasis for me is to continue to collect driver points and build upon our consistent performances."

Citroen Junior Team:

[Evgeny Novikov, car #7 and Conrad Rautenbach, car #8, and Sebastien Ogier, car #12]

Benoit Nogier (Citroen Junior Team manager) on Evgeny Novikov:

"We're delighted that he's going to be joining us. Evgeny is one of the big hopes of world motorsport, although he's still only 18 years old. We're very pleased that he has chosen to make his World Rally Car debut with us. His presence fits in entirely with the ethos of the Citroen Junior Team. We're looking for drivers of the future, in order to help them make an impact on the world stage."

Conrad Rautenbach:

"My mistake in Ireland is all behind us now. We were able to regain our confidence with the car on the final day there and work on the set-up. I'm really keen to get to Norway now. It should be a more straightforward rally for us and we've got some testing planned prior to the start. I'm going to be driving for two days in the test just to get used to competing on snow. I've not got a lot of experience on this surface but I've still got a good feeling in these conditions. Our goal is to score points. If we can keep up the same pace as we had on the first day of Rally Ireland, when we were in the top five, we should be well-placed to score a good result at the finish."

Sebastien Ogier:

"We learnt a lot in Ireland. The kilometres that we covered on an asphalt rally - if you could call it asphalt, in those extreme conditions - will be very useful for the future. Every time we get into the car we discover some new things and make progress. The Rally Norway will certainly be more enjoyable, although not necessarily any easier. I can't wait to be there although we'll be up against people who have much more experience of snow rallies. I've already driven a Group N car in Sweden, and I'll be able to have a day of testing before the recce. One of the key objectives of that test will be for me to get used to the tyres and the driving style needed on snow. Then, just like Ireland, the goal will be simply to get to the end of the rally without making too many mistakes. We'll have to see where we are after the first few stages before we fix any targets in terms of results."

Production Car WRC:

Round 1 of 8 - Battle begins.

In total 15 runners will be able to score points in the P-WRC this weekend, with Martin Prokop, Patrik Flodin and Patrik Sandell likely to the favourites to take the victory.

Andreas Mikkelsen should also do well and he is one of two 'wild cards', the other being Bernt Kollevold.

Other notable runners include two-time PWRC champion, Toshi Arai, Bernardo Sousa and Armindo Araujo.

Thus far 19 runners have filed an entry with the FIA for this year's P-WRC, although six opted not to nominate Norway as one of their points' scoring events.

Other significant entries:

43 crews due to start.

Around 43 crews are due to start Rally Norway, with 18 in WRC cars.

In addition to the drivers' with the manufacturer teams, Petter Solberg will make his first appearance in the 2009 World Rally Championship, in a privately entered Citroen Xsara WRC.

The Norwegian has been busy putting together his own team since he was left without a drive following Subaru's decision to axe its WRC programme and he is now looking forward to seeing what he can do.

"It is going to be very interesting [on Rally Norway] and good fun," he told Crash.net Radio recently. "I must say it has been a lot of hard work to get everything ready. It is very busy, but I think I have 20 people around everywhere to fetch things and do things. Everyone is very supportive. It is almost like going back to the old days again.

"Everybody is helping each other and I really appreciate that. We have got everything ready and that is unbelievable. I am testing Saturday and Sunday [February 7-8, prior to the event] and then we will see. We have a lot of interesting things to try.

"Basically I have driven the Xsara for 50 kilometres already and it worked quite easy straight away. But how good it is we don't know yet. At least though I will have a drive and we will do everything we can to fight, that is for sure."

Other runners in WRC cars include ex-Suzuki WRT man Per-Gunnar Andersson in a Skoda Fabia WRC, while Mads ?stberg is one of three runners in a Subaru Impreza WRC, along with Anders Gr?ndal and Eamonn Boland.

Route:

As in 2007, the rally is based in Hamar, 125km north-east of Oslo. It hosts the main service park at the spectacular 9,000 capacity indoor Viking Ship stadium, built to host speed skating events during the 1994 Winter Olympics.

The route is based in the same region as the previous edition, but more than 44 per cent of the 360.90km of competition is new.

The action begins with an all-new super special stage at a trotting track in Oslo on Thursday evening. The first full day in the forests of Kongsvinger, south-east of Hamar, uses opening leg tests from 2007, but most are in the opposite direction. The only opportunity for service during the day will be a 15-minute remote service zone in Kongsvinger.

The second leg is centred to the north in the mountain region of Lillehammer, host city of the Olympics, but also includes a short test in Hamar itself.

The final day is the longest and more than half is new, including the final stage at Hedmark mountain plateau which runs through a corridor of three-metre high snow walls. Drivers tackle 23 tests in a route of 1230.15km.

Last year:

There was no Rally Norway in 2008. However, the 2007 edition was won by Mikko Hirvonen, who took the lead from the off. Marcus Gronholm was second, 9.5 seconds further back, while Henning Solberg completed the podium.

Petter Solberg and Jari-Matti Latvala came in fourth and fifth, followed by Gigi Galli, Daniel Carlsson and Jan Kopecky.

A number of drivers' hit problems, including Sebastien Loeb, who finished 14th, while Dani Sordo and Matthew Wilson both utilised the SupeRally to get to the end and were classified in 25th and 26th respectively.

 

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