Climate change is killing Rally Sweden. It’s actually been killing the rally for several years now, because death at the hand of global warming is never quick. In organizers’ latest measure to stave off the event’s snowless demise, next year’s running will relocate north by some 500 miles, away from its typical place in Värmland County, about 100 miles east of Oslo in Norway.
The new home of Rally Sweden will be Umeå to the northeast, the World Rally Championship announced Thursday. Östersund and Luleå — south and north of Umeå, respectively — were under consideration, though Umeå was ultimately chosen as it’s an area more conducive to an event of the rally’s scale. From Rally Sweden CEO Glenn Olsson:
“Umeå’s strengths, in addition to a stable winter climate, include good hotel capacity in combination with service park location and HQ at the Nolia trade fair area, a vibrant business community and the potential to attract plenty of fans.”
Sweden is typically the only rally on the WRC calendar consistently held on snow, while the changeable conditions of the Monte Carlo round often produce a mix of asphalt, ice and snow. Last year’s Rally Sweden, held in mid-February right before the COVID-19 threw a wrench into the calendar, had to be shortened to little more than half distance due to the lack of snow. Pirelli had only brought studded tires to the event, and those are pretty useless on dirt.
It was the second time the rally’s length was cut down in five years, after the 2016 running was halved for the same reason.
Then, this past December, the 2021 Rally Sweden was cancelled entirely — although this time ostensibly due to COVID-19 concerns. Still, the writing’s been on the wall for a good while now. Sweden’s average temperature of 45.5 degrees Fahrenheit in 2020 stands as the warmest on record.
And while Sweden is hardly the only part of the world setting highest-ever temperatures, it’s position near the Arctic Circle exacerbates the rise — something our Elizabeth Blackstock drew attention to last year. Rally Australia 2019 was also called off because of climate-related issues, specifically bushfires.
Some might wonder why the WRC doesn’t merely accept fate and allow Sweden to transform into a slush-and-gravel rally, rather than a snow one. Putting aside the dismay of purists, taking real snow accumulation out of the mix completely alters the character of the stages. The snowbanks that give Swedish routes their signature narrow and tricky nature disappear, making the rally almost Finland-level quick.
These are the challenges faced by a discipline of motorsport so dependent on nature to behave in a consistent way that competitors and organizers can anticipate. Ironically, venues really feeling the effects of climate change are precisely the ones Extreme E has been targeting, the new electric off-road racing series that kicked off last weekend.
One of Extreme E’s primary goals is to bring awareness to these very areas of the world through its publicity. I’m still not seeing how much good Extreme E could do for these regions through advocacy one weekend out of the year, but at least the series employs a team of experts dedicated to keeping its carbon footprint as limited as possible. Extreme E aims to be net-zero by the end of this inaugural season.
As for the WRC, it’d be a shame to see snow rallies disappear from the calendar entirely. Here’s hoping Umeå can present a good home for Swedish rallying for years to come — or at least until the next move.