Greetings from snow covered Norway! But aren’t we covering Rally Sweden, you ask. Well, the Swedish rally has a few stages running in neighbouring Norway and we’re now at Kongsvinger, where the cars are having their first remote service after five special stages.

The rally officially started yesterday night – SS1 was a super special stage in the rally’s base city of Karlstad, Sweden. A horse racing ring in the small town of 60k turned into a rally showcase for the locals, who came out in droves despite the temperature dropping to below -10C.

It wasn’t a walk in the park for yours truly – my luggage containing heavy winter wear got lost in transit – but it warmed the heart being with the enthusiastic crowd, ranging from grandmothers to young dating couples and tiny babies. Their passion for rallying is so strong, you’ll need to see to believe.

The rally isn’t won and lost in that short 1.9 km showcase (MINI’s Dani Sordo came out tops) so the real start is today, where the cars slip and slide in a white landscape. Leading the overall standings is Citroen’s Mikko Hirvonen, with a small lead (just 2.9 seconds) over ex Ford teammate Jari-Matti Latvala, who was tops in qualifying.

By the way, qualifying replaces shakedown, where the fastest cars get to choose their start order, usually in the middle. Going first and setting a trail is always trickier. I learnt that those who go first must contend with soft snow covering the surface. Not so much grip for the studded tyres, which “bite” harder into hard ice once the soft snow is cleared.

Mads Ostberg’s Adapta Ford Fiesta is third, while Hirvonen’s superstar teammate Sebastian Loeb is in fourth leaving Kongsvinger. Behind Loeb’s DS3 is another famous rally name, Petter Solberg, driving for the works Ford team. This duo was hit by unwanted delays – Loeb collected a 10sec penalty while the Norwegian (the only guy with his own merchandise and booths) spun on home soil in SS4.

In the S-WRC category (S for Super 2000) which Proton is contesting in, homeboy Per Gunnar Andersson came into Kongsvinger in the lead, with a slim 7.4 second advantage over unheralded Pontus Tidemand in a Skoda Fabia S2000. Ireland’s Craig Breen, who won the category in Monte Carlo after PG retired on the last stage, is in third with his Ford Fiesta S2000.

Alister McRae, Proton’s APRC champion, had his winter rally dreams dashed – the Scotsman put a wheel into the soft snow and lost control on SS3. His Neo was stuck, and co-driver Bill Hayes had to walk 2 km to find helpful spectators to push the car out of the ditch. No serious damage, and McRae will start tomorrow under Super Rally rules. He’s won’t be winning the S-WRC category, that’s for sure, but can still collect points for Proton.

We caught up with PG at the service park and he appears very confident in bringing home Proton’s first points of the season and winning his class. The popular Swede said he lost a bit of time in SS3, a tight and technical stage where he couldn’t get a good rhythm. But things went well after that, so let’s hope all goes smoothly from now. Overall, PG is 15th.

Stay tuned for updates.